The Barracuda-2 Incident
An X-COM: Terror from the Deep Fanfic
Author's note: I have no clue what made me produce this. I dunno. It's definitely different than almost all of my work; yeah, it's got war, but this is definitely a darker little twist. If I get feedback to change this from T to M rated, I won't argue at all. Like my last few fics I've posted here, I'm just writing what I feel like. I doubt this will become a pattern, although X-COM could certainly use more fanfiction. Great game.
Conventional sonar crews were experienced in picking random garbage from valuable data, but X-COM operated on a different set of standards. Since her first day, Rena Hikaru had been drilled by the instructors in the virtue of thoroughness. "Remember what 'alien' means. At least the Reticulans breathed air and walked on the land, for the most part. I'm sure everyone remembers the UFO-17 tapes." Who could forget? UFO-17 was the first successful over-water interception of alien craft in the entire War, when X-COM craft forced a Terror Scout trolling around the British Islands into the drink, only kilometers from shore. The Sectoid crew had been too afraid to jump for shore, despite it being within distant sight, instead trying to keep their badly holed craft afloat. When the interceptors, low on fuel and interest, left them to their fates, the UFO had just capsized and more than half-vanished under the churning waves.
"We can't really expect a similar reaction from these new bastards. Consider that we know a lot more about space than we do about the beds of our very own oceans. Every year we turn up new animals and sights that are weirder than any space probe. My point here is that, especially since we're searching at all-depths, every single contact is a potential USO. If it moves fast, report it. If it's shaped weird, report it. If there's absolutely nothing remarkable about it, report it anyway. Sorting, filtering… that's Intel's bag for now. We've identified half a dozen USO configs but this early in the war, we can't count anything out."
That usually made for a phenomenally boring and tedious job for the sonar operators, cataloging every spike and divot in the sonar as well as the random contacts of even schools of fish. After all, the USOs defied sonar just like UFOs shrugged off searching radar pulses, and so even if something weird was out there, Hikaru only had about a ten percent chance of ever seeing it.
Somehow that creeped her out more, because she still noticed strange contacts on a pretty frequent basis; doubtless only the tip of the iceberg. How much activity was really going on undersea? There'd been reports from divers and scientists for decades now, but much like a lot of the traditional UFO lore, it was tough to separate idiots and pretenders from genuine events.
Sometimes, though, her job wasn't hard at all. A big metal bastard perfectly matched to known Cruiser-class hull shape was lurking comfortably in the base's detection range, sliding along the United States' Atlantic seaboard. He was moving at barely 300 knots, which was crawling along even for human submarine engines, and heading northwest to match the upward shape of the U.S. She barely spared a thought for its mission as she called in the confirmed contact, and heard the voice on the other end of the radio start shouting orders.
All of ATLANTIC-COM went to alert, lights flashing and sirens wailing, the floating base preparing for a contact. The Barracuda crew on watch sprinted from the ready room to the sub pen, where the most modern and deadly of interceptor submarines awaited them. Within minutes, Barracuda-2, "Ugly Betty", was airtight and diving through the pen's airlocks and out into open ocean, turbines roaring to speed. It was a sleek design, shaped to cut through the waters with minimal resistance to protect it from its own blinding speed, with the bridge embedded above the center of the ship.
The Barracuda bore D.U.P. Head Launchers, large systems loaded with depleted-uranium tipped warheads that constituted the deadliest torpedo in human history. Its effective range and damage potential was spectacular, and the only reason it hadn't replaced the Ajax M-35 warhead as the weapon of choice for major navies was the prohibitive cost. Luckily, X-COM could afford to pay so high to ensure heavy damage on target.
Lieutenant LeFevre, formerly of the European Syndicate Marine Force, perched in the cramped bridge of Ugly Betty and watched his crew go to work. Five others were aboard with him; a pilot, two engineers, a gunner and a sonar operator. Just the basics needed to fight. "We've got good feed from AT-COM, sir," Ensign Lowell reported, staring intently at his screen. "Even without base help, though, I could find that guy easily. He's not trying very hard to be stealthy."
"Excellent. I'm sure Davis would love a chance to demonstrate his accuracy. Engineering, bring us to full turbine, we're well clear of the base and at good depth. I want 1000 knots steady." He could push Betty to go as hard as 1700, if necessary, but commanders rarely needed to redline their subs. After all, the aliens were faster, so even at full throttle, a tail-chase with an alert enemy was pointless. If they were unawares, like this Cruiser here? Often they slowed or even touched down on the surface of the ocean, allowing X-COM plenty of time to sidle up and say hello.
Before the sub could enter contact range, Commander Koyama's voice came in on the command line. "Barracuda-2, We're dispatching Aquanauts behind you to sweep and clear the crash. ETA on the Triton, if you intercept soon, is two hours." Triton submarines had once been battle subs, but X-COM heavily refitted them to carry fourteen soldiers, their diving suits, as well as standard kit and a pilot-copilot team. Their turbines were the best possible, but a fully weighted Triton heading to a waypoint could only redline at about 600 knots; well past supersonic, but a snail's pace compared with alien vessels. Not to mention the fact that it was unarmed.
"Confirmed, HQ. We'll try to leave something to scrape up," LeFevre replied. Soon enough, Ugly Betty had pulled up to 'standoff' range, about a hundred kilometers, and began to match speeds with the still-unaware contact. "Command, we're preparing to close and engage. Stand by for report."
"Good tone, sir," Able Seaman Davis called out, hands eagerly gripping the simplified, computer-assisted aiming controls. "Ready for launch."
"Launch one," LeFevre ordered, and the entire Barracuda shook with the force of the huge torpedo's launch. A second later, he said, "Fire two!" And their second heavy D.U.P blew outwards with incredible speed. One and Two bridged the remaining distance to the target almost instantly, and the USO had little time to react before they entered explosive range. A last-second evasive action, straight down and to the left, forced the D.U.P.s to overshoot and, already moving so fast, quickly smash into the ocean floor. The twin explosions were tremendous and kicked up water on the surface, but the Cruiser remained unharmed and started to accelerate.
LeFevre cursed. D.U.P. tracking wasn't perfect, but for both to miss was pretty rare, and unfortunate. Even one of the heavy weapons could have brought the USO down. "Reload both tubes and fire again!" The enemy was still in range for another volley, although the distance suddenly widened with every moment as the automatic systems loaded new torpedoes from the ship's small magazines.
Instead of just rabbiting, as the USOs were showing a tendency to do, this one pulled an abrupt turn, impossible for an Earth vessel of its size, and barreled directly for Ugly Betty. LeFevre wasn't worried, really; they'd only gone out with six D.U.P.s, and no shorter ranged weapons, but he was sure the aliens couldn't survive another two salvoes, especially if they opened up such a good targeting profile.
Three and Four went straight in, even faster than the Cruiser, and detonated in front. The alien sub sustained damage, hull cracking from the overpressure and destructive force, but it continued forward, engines still running and defiant. "Ramming course," Lowell called out. "Closing too fast!"
"Our last torpedoes won't reload fast enough, sir," Davis reported, staring at his screen as if he could make the mechanical loaders move faster just through sheer willpower. "Blast radius would knock us out!"
Faced with a split second decision of such magnitude, LeFevre froze. By the time he got out the order for evasive action, it was too late. USO-9 fired its sonic oscillators point-blank like a shotgun, the concentrated sound smashing into the front of the Barracuda and crunching it up like a soda can. Air vented from rents in the armor and the sub listed heavily from pressure loss. The USO barely avoided contact, scraping the upper plating of the human sub before rocketing past.
The bridge began to fill with water, and LeFevre felt the pressure difference press him down. Of course, the entire crew was in standard diving gear, and all he had to do was yell "Helmets on!" to make them safe against the water. Each sailor obeyed, sealing up and switching to their suit's full reserve of air as the water reached their chest. Abruptly, the sub lost main power, turbines coughing and sputtering into silence and sending the Barricuda nose-first into sand.
The ship had still been traveling fast enough to gouge a deep wound in the seabed, ripping its wings and various outer bits of hull and spraying them out like shrapnel as it ground along. Eventually friction brought it to rest, listing heavily forward and seemingly threatening to sink further into the ground. However, it had found a large embedded rock which was holding it steady, thankfully. As it laid motionless, it started to trail thick black oil and smoke from multiple interior fires.
In the ATLANTIC-COM command center, Koyama stared in awe at the readings from the ship's cameras and base sonar. Eventually, however, he got on the radio and announced, "Barracuda-2 is down, I repeat, Barracuda-2 has been downed by an Alien sub in the Northwest Atlantic." He switched to direct comms and addressed the sub. "Barracuda-2, this is Command. Please respond."
After horrifying seconds of silence, static crackled back at them, and they heard someone's breathing, right on the mic. "This is Barracuda-2, Command," LeFevre said, huffing and puffing from the sheer impact of the crash and staring directly up at the ceiling. "Ship is downed, crew… unknown. I'm alive." He managed to crane his neck enough to spot other officers, belted into their command positions, but spotted movement from each and the telltale bubbles coming from their suits. "Looks like… confirmed, crew is alive."
"Thank god," Koyama sighed. "Barracuda-2, I need you operational… according to our sonar, that Cruiser is moving to touch down not five hundred meters from your crash site." In a horrible reversal of the usual situation, the Commander explained, the crew of the sub would need to defend their own crash site from boarders until support could arrive. "Reinforcements are already en route, Triton is…." He abruptly paused. "Triton-1 redlining engines, confirm. She's pulling 670. We're looking at less than an hour until they're on your scene. Just hold out and keep those bastards away."
The Lieutenant shook his head, trying to move his limbs to make sure his spine wasn't broken, and felt relieved when all he felt was crippling pain. At least that meant he wasn't disabled. "Everyone," He called out. "Sound off, local radios."
Their suits, aside from the obvious air and pressure protection, were plated with flexible impact armor, and had doubtless saved their lives. Only Able Seaman Davis had sustained serious injury, his legs crumpled at sickening angles and not responding to his feeble attempts to move. His groans and grunts punctuated the others' more positive reports. There were bruises, headaches, and a lot of fear… but thank God it wasn't worse.
"We need to get operational," He groaned. "How's the outlook, Engineering?"
Master Chief Mbuto had nearly been incinerated by the main engine's explosion, and even through his suit he'd felt the blast. The explosion had ruined the engine beyond his ability to repair, and taken out most of the engine room in general. The fuel and coolant lines were severed, turbines blown out… "Short version, sir? This Barracuda's never moving under its own power again."
LeFevre sighed deeply. "Then we're going to need to get ready… the Aliens aren't leaving yet." Nobody said anything as the news sunk in. "Everyone in X-COM is trained in the use of these new weapons… and it sounds like the arms locker made it through fine." He detached from his command harness and swam with professional grace through the completely flooded compartment, heading for the back. The rest of the crew slowly followed suit, except for Davis, of course. He broke the locker open, revealing a rack of six rifle-shaped harpoon cannons.
Fighting underwater was nothing new to man; for over a century, submarines had operated in war to great effect and developed an entire new front to human conflict. However, all of the fighting had been craft-to-craft. Nobody had tried personal combat underwater, and conventional firearms simply didn't function under the pressure and water of a thousand meters below the waves. Laser weapons refracted horribly and weren't effective at ranges greater than a meter, and plasma weapons, technology captured from the previous war, relied on an element that was both impossible to manufacture and became inert upon contact with water. There were whispers of new technology based on particle acceleration, but for now all they had was gas-powered weaponry.
The XM-02 Personal Harpoon Rifle was basically just a scaled-down version of ship harpoon guns, a catapult mounted inside the frame of a barreled rifle. It was fed by packages of long steel harpoons surrounded in a bubble of air, flung by gas pressure inside the gun. It had heavy recoil and a slow rate of fire, but nobody could argue against its effectiveness; anything even remotely humanoid would be skewered or ripped apart. He pulled back the charging handle and loaded the first harpoon package, feeling the mechanism charge. Once the safety was thumbed off, the PHR would be ready to unleash death. It shook in his thick suit's gloves and he realized he was trembling.
Alien forces had always been very versatile; their ship crews were as good at soldiering as at piloting, and even when forced to defend their crash sites, they had gone toe-to-toe with infantry specialists. LeFevre and his crew were soldiers and physically fit, but they'd never expected it to come to this. Nobody aboard the sub had ever personally killed anyone before, much less fought monsters in the deep, at the bottom of the ocean.
The ruined frame of the Barracuda started to groan and crack. Everyone looked around in alarm, and Able Seaman McNamara chimed in. "It's the pressure… the crash must have weakened Betty's superstructure…." All eyes turned to Davis. Everyone else could try to move out and take cover amongst the ferns and rocks of the ocean floor, but he wasn't moving anywhere soon.
At least, under his own power. "We can't stay here. Mac, Lowell, bring Davis. Try to keep anything off his legs… but I think he'd agree it's still preferable to being crushed." The gunnery officer nodded tiredly, and reached out to his two shipmates as they bent down and lifted him free of his seat. He grunted, but bit his lip to avoid crying out, legs floating limply. Koyama opened the emergency bridge hatch which led directly out of the hull, and turned about ninety degrees so he could float out of the tilted door and out, winding up half a meter above the blasted sands. Ugly Betty had dug her own grave, and the crater could make a good defensive position, especially with the broken rear fins and debris that littered the area, still smoldering but safe to approach in their suits. "Bring him over to the back. Let's set up there, stay together. Good cover." The crew followed, quietly.
The Lieutenant took a survey of the surroundings. They were at such a depth that, despite the fact that the sun was directly overhead, it was pretty dark around. Large clusters of ferns loomed and swayed mysteriously in all directions, and there were collections of rocks, but nothing close enough to be handy for attackers. In order to advance, the aliens would need to charge over relatively open ground… would they be so foolhardy? He prayed they had a sense of tactics, and tried to hold their position until the humans' salvation arrived.
"Less than an hour," He told McNamara, who stood beside him and looked out on the alien landscape around them. "… You know, it's strange. But… in a certain way, the ferns are pretty." Anything to take his mind off the impending doom for a moment.
Mac made a noise of displeasure. "Don't necessarily disagree, sir, but all those wavy ferns are going to make spotting something, especially if it's moving, pretty hard." Ooh, good point. They were about to move back into cover when a concentrated 'shell' of sonic power streaked in towards the sub. There was no report, at least that they could hear, but it kicked up a stream of excited water and bubbles that made it easy to notice. Both men cursed and ducked, although the trail was already bubbling upwards. The shot had been wide, and it was hard to see what was firing on them. "Incoming!" Mac screamed into his mic and turned to run for cover. LeFevre raised his rifle, but knew better than to stand his ground, and followed suit as a second sonic shot came in. This one blew up sand far short of the sub.
"Left side," Davis called out, propped up against a bit of metal amidst the others in the crater, trying to manipulate his weapon to peek out to level ground. "Watch it!" His comrades were on their stomachs, pressed low and only barely peeking up. They weren't very comfortable, but more alien fire convinced them any other position was untenable.
"Command, this is Ugly Betty," LeFevre spoke into his radio. "We have contact with hostiles. We don't know how many, but we're taking fire. The sub's unstable but we're taking cover in its crater and debris. Confirm?"
"Confirmed," Koyama replied over the line. "Defensively, Lieutenant. Keep your crew cool, make sure they preserve themselves."
"Right. No heroes," He called to his command. Nobody really felt inclined to try to be one, though; being shot at, even from a distance, tightened their stomachs. After clamming up earlier, LeFevre tried to steel himself. His mistake hadn't cost anyone's lives, yet, and he was determined to try to bring the crew out of this alive. "… Command, what's the compliment for a Cruiser?"
It took Command a minute to get back to him, and his men started spotting movement in the ferns. Nothing solid yet, but a few more badly-aimed sonic shots made the threat clear. "We've only fought one Cruiser before now, Lieutenant. Looks like we checked in eight Aquatoid corpses from that one." LeFevre tried not to show his fear yet again. They were clearly, at the least, outnumbered. "Intel's chewing my ear off. They say there isn't space for more than ten, total, but five or less isn't likely either. Assume eight but be ready."
Aquatoids were just the poor bloody foot soldiers of the Alien forces, just like their Sectoid brethren from the previous conflict, but they were still about as strong and smart as a human. In fact, these Aquatoids seemed much better suited to fighting in the deeps, and their eerily glowing red eyes allowed them to see far. Usually their accuracy was chilling, but it was possible the Aliens were just trying to pin him down.
The motion all around Ugly Betty continued, the ferns swaying unnaturally and the occasional shot flying wildly in. Everyone felt the pressure, falling silent over the radios, until finally Lowell had enough. The sonar operator was known for being a cool operator, but the trauma of the fight had evidently snapped through his discipline. He got up to his knees, brought his PHR to bear, and squeezed the trigger, feeling the comforting thump of recoil. The harpoon grazed the top of the ferns and did little else, sailing away on a jet of compressed air until it finally arced to a landing, far out of sight. In response, a sonic shot came within a meter of piercing his suit. He started to scream like a madman and adjusted his aim, squeezing the trigger again and waiting for the gas chamber to cycle for a second shot. His rifle recharged and sent its second deadly messenger, and this one plowed right into the mysterious, writhing darkness.
Before the disturbance in the water from his shot had cleared and allowed him to see what effect it had, return fire struck him in the right arm. The ultra-compressed shell of coherent noise brutally ripped through the layer of armor and the insulation of his diving suit. It drove right to the bone, and a spray of sickening red shot outwards even as the man was physically knocked backwards by pressure. The sudden change in pressure sent him out like a light, smacking limply into the broken armor of Ugly Betty before falling with muted, strange slowness. He fell to the floor, suit filling with water before McNamara could get over to him. He had no medical or repair equipment, though, and futilely tried to cover the leak with his gloves even as he watched the faceplate of his friend fill with bloody water.
Lowell drowned in a mixture of his own blood and the salty, cold waters of the ocean depths, mercifully unconscious as his body died for air.
Everyone but Davis watched it happen, horrified as the full reality of their peril struck them. The gunner forced himself to keep looking outwards, and raised his gun for his own shot, quiet as he fired and observed annoyingly little effect on anything. The recoil did jolt him enough to move his legs, and he had to take a while, cursing up a storm, before he got his wits back from the pain.
"Like I said, keep your asses in cover," LeFevre called out, voice unsteady. "All it takes is a hit…" Even just being struck in the arm was a death sentence when you were at deadly depth. As punctuation, he took his own shot, a quick snap of the trigger that he didn't expect to do anything but ease his mind. More blood flowed upwards from the distant, inky depths, though, and exhilaration filled him. A lucky hit, no doubt. Scratch one of the Aliens…
He revised his opinion when the bastard emerged from the last of its concealment, coming right out into the open. Its body was squat and underdeveloped compared with its huge head, although its fins and gills were perfectly suited to water. Those huge, inscrutable and piercing red eyes were fixed on him like radars. His lucky harpoon was going right through the creature's chest and causing blood to leak out of the gaping wound… and the Aquatoid was still going strong. For a moment time stood still… until LeFevre recognized what the creature clutched; a small grooved cylinder which was giving off a small green light. It didn't take a genius to deduce the wounded creature's plan, and he called out, "Incoming! Suicide bomber!" Motioning for the crew to open fire. Throwing grenades like in conventional war was, obviously, impossible under these conditions, but they would explode just as well if carried like a grisly football.
If one bolt didn't bring the monster down, three certainly did the trick, especially one that struck it dead-center of its elongated forehead and turned its expression instantly into the neutral vacancy of death. It toppled, and in a matter of seconds the body and twenty meters of dirt had evaporated in a considerable shockwave. Aside from shaking them up, the grenade had failed to hurt the humans, though, thanks to their desperate fire.
The blast had knocked up enough smoke to conceal anything behind it, to either side, and a tense silence set in across the battlefield. After witnessing the fate of their comrade, the Aquatoids seemed determined to avoid a full frontal assault, but they were lurking, waiting for a moment of opportunity to strike. The humans were on the edge of panic now, staring at each shadow until every moving fern became a slouching monster. "Save fire for effect," LeFevre ordered, knowing that the crew had no ammo at all besides the initial ten-round harpoon packs in their guns. After all, surface combat gear had been added as an afterthought, and in the event of such a fight, the crew wasn't expected to outlive their meager magazines.
His adrenaline had started to sour with the wait, but his hopes slowly peaked. Maybe the Aliens would hesitate long enough, rebuked by their ferocious defense, to let the Aquanauts get here to support. The arrival of fourteen elite soldiers, handpicked from marine companies the world over, would end this fight quickly enough.
Their only choices were to keep staring into the dangerous, terrifying outside, or turn and look down into the crater, upon the horrifying, red-misted diving suit of their crewmate. Some didn't know which was worse, but Davis just forced his mind to concentrate through his discomfort. The moment he thought he could make a shot, he would send his vengeance true and score a personal kill. Gunnery officer, indeed.
The five of them weren't too surprised when the Aliens found their courage again and started firing, sending accurate suppressing fire that kicked up dirt and dust all around the lip of the crater. LeFevre only felt comfortable peeking out just long enough to see the flash of energy weapons and the slow approach of dark, squat figures. "They're advancing in line," He called out. "I think they're…" And suddenly he noticed two more Aquatoids on the far left, almost out of sight behind the ruined bulk of the sub. "Flankers! Freaks coming, rear left."
Ugly Betty's crew couldn't do much to prevent being totally encircled, and had to assume they were now, unable to even try to break and flee across the ocean floor. They would hold the line or all die, right here. The Lieutenant aimed his PHR at the flankers, figuring them the bigger threat and ignoring sonic shots landing to his left and right. His shot went wide, though, and his courage gave out, forcing him back down as fire started to concentrate on him. Peeking out was starting to get truly hazardous.
"We have to push them back, the bastards are the ones out in the open," Mbuto called out, clutching his harpoon rifle tensely and breathing heavily from stress. "All at once!" This was going to be risky, but LeFevre couldn't argue; if allowed to reach point-blank, the Aliens would take more human lives anyway. He motioned for everyone to get up and fire at the enemies in front.
Harpoon bolts streaked out, most going embarrassingly wide or short and barely fazing the Aquatoids… until Davis scored a gory kill, ripping one of the creatures' arms off, sending his sonic pistol flying backwards in a spray of billowing red and making the monster writhe in agony. The Aliens began to realize their vulnerability, firing from the hip now as they started to backpedal. Both sides were inaccurate and their guns were slow, if incredibly deadly, and so both Aquatoids reached the visual cover of the ferns before another X-COM harpoon could find them.
"Everyone good?" LeFevre asked, just trying to keep himself breathing. Kind of a useless question, but he wasn't thinking too well by this point. After all, they were all probably fucked. "Ammo?" He knew his own rifle had six shots remaining.
"I forgot," Able Seaman Zhukov admitted, glancing at his rifle. "Couldn't be more than five shots, by now." He wasn't exactly a marksman, and had ended up just spraying shots around, praying for a hit. No luck so far.
"I've got six," Davis chimed in. He seemed almost inhumanly calm, given the crisis and his situation, but maybe that was just his mind's way of coping. It wasn't surprising he was counting his shots like a professional rifleman.
"Eight," Mbuto said. A ponderous, thoughtful man, he'd been one to score a hit on the suicide bomber, and was pretty sure he'd taken out the other Aquatoid among his friends, as well. He was doing amazing, considering he barely passed formal rifle requirements back during recruitment.
"Seven," McNamara reported. His mind had been on the low ammo, and he'd only fired in reaction to the firing charge of the Aquatoids. Of course, no kills, and he was still trying to figure out how to adjust for the weapon's severe kick, but at least he was shooting.
"Alright, that's good, we just need to-" The Aliens who had flanked around emerged from either side of the sub, springing a deadly crossfire and lighting the humans up with sonic fire. They had perfect, close-range shots, and their first sonic bolts both struck Mbuto. The engineer's helmet, and then his head, popped, and his body cartwheeled backwards from the venting of pressure.
Shock struck the humans, and for a moment there was no reaction. Just as they began to light up Davis, though, the humans brought their harpoon rifles around and started returning the favor. LeFevre shot high and watched Davis burst like a can of tomato juice for his error. The other alien fell with a harpoon directly through its dark heart, Zhukov's only competent shot, borne of adrenaline and fear for himself. McNamara followed up, and took the other Alien in the leg, forcing the monster to the floor. LeFevre's second shot carved into the alien, straight down the front like a second metal section of spine.
The three survivors gibbered, falling backwards with exhaustion and horror. The bodies that lay around them, the waters poisoned with Alien and human blood that swirled so passively around their faces… it was too much. For a while, they just sat, occasionally looking at each other or the gory messes around. The blood thinned and diluted, swirling out and out until eventually it was hard to see it in the murky water.
The crackle of the radio startled LeFevre so badly that he nearly fired again, and would have taken off his own foot. "Come in, Barracuda-2, this is Triton-1." At no reply, the pilot of the transport tried again. "Ugly Betty, this is Aegis Fate. Respond."
Eventually, somehow, LeFevre found the breath and the mind for human speech. "Here," He replied, hoarse from screaming.
"Aegis Fate is ten minutes, repeat, ten-zero minutes, from your touchdown site. We're pushing this baby past safety limits, the engines are burning up. You guys are gonna owe me a new coolant line when we get back to AT-COM, over." The news should have elated him; they had almost finished holding out, help was almost there. All LeFevre felt at this point, however, was a gaping, hungry void. He didn't even bother to reply, sitting up enough to have a look over the lip of the crater.
Mac looked with him, and they both saw nothing. Even the ferns seemed still. Had the Aquatoids withdrawn? X-COM had never witnessed Aliens to care much about casualties; the only way to break their morale was to slaughter them horribly, five-to-one. Whatever could be said about the fight that the crew of Barracuda-2 put up, 'dominant victory' couldn't come to his mind, even as a morose joke.
"We should make a break for it," Mac said, voice desperate with fear. "Look. If we stay here… they're gonna hit us again. We can't stand up against all of them, no way. If we take this chance, we can run until Aegis Fate gets here to save us." He waited for some kind of reply, but both of the others were stonily silent. "… Guys?"
In the bulky diving armor, they looked almost as alien as their foes; Mac couldn't tell if they were angry with his plan or just withdrawn into themselves, rendered emotionally inert by the battle. Either way… fuck them. With a snarl of annoyance, he sprung up, sent his harpoon rifle against the side of the sub, and started up the crater, moving in a direction definitely away from where he figured the Alien sub was. He moved as quickly as possible, taking big, leaping strides in the weird oceanic terrain.
LeFevre kept looking outwards, squinting intently, while Zhukov sat beside Mbuto's beheaded figure, contemplating something unfathomable. Just as "Triton is five minutes out, Aquanauts, prepare for hot insertion!" Roared through his radio, he saw movement again. Aquatoids, at least three, moving right for them again.
The Lieutenant didn't care anymore. Even a salvo of sonic shots raining around him didn't rouse him to so much as duck his head. Zhukov took notice, though, and tackled him down before he could get himself shot. "Sir, they're so close!" He screamed out, sobbing, "Horace… Pat…. Noah…. They all died for this! They died here, holding for rescue! They fought like men! What are we gonna do, then? Just let those bastards kill us? Fuck it. Raise your gun and go out shooting!" He shook his commanding officer with no respect, just urgency, trying to light a fire in the man below him. "God damn you, live! If we live, then this is meant SOMETHING! This…. Fucking… bloody, horrible hour…"
When he got no reply, he cut off his tirade, biting his lip so hard he tasted iron and standing straight up, weapon ready. The Aliens fired before the junior engineer could even take aim, though, and he crumpled in a bloody heap next to the other members of LeFevre's crew. His still-twitching arm struck the officer's shoulder on the way down.
LeFevre stared at Zhukov, watching the last flickers of life pass from the kid. He was alone now, and the Aliens were coming. Somehow he found the will to heft his weapon up, coming up on his knees and surprising the advancing Aliens, who were close now and figured every one of the humans had been killed. Like a machine, he squeezed the trigger and ended one of the Aquatoids, ripping him apart with a precisely-aimed harpoon. The other reacted quicker than people might have, despite their surprise, but LeFevre didn't really care.
Survival? Fuck that. He just wanted to kill. Hastily-aimed sonic rounds passed to both sides of him, perilously close, but he felt like they were miles away. His rifle recharged and coughed out a second deadly bolt, a headshot which skewered the Alien in one of his huge eyes. Blood was everywhere, but it was Alien blood and just another thing he didn't notice.
The last Aquatoid let out a silent snarl, releasing his sonic pistol and pulling out a sword-length drill that started to rotate menacingly. The creature beelined for him, closing the short distance before LeFevre could fire again. The officer reacted the only way he could in his mental state, meeting the charge and holding his weapon sideways, bashing the drill head aside and causing his enemy to stumble. His follow-up attack landed the butt of the harpoon gun onto its side, and the creature flopped over from the solid hit. LeFevre was merciless, bashing again and again until the butt of the weapon snapped off and he'd warped the barrel. Unable to deliver his finishing shot, he discarded the gun and grabbed for the Alien drill. It was so simple to figure out, that in moments he was plunging into surprisingly soft and yielding Aquatoid flesh as the monster thrashed and died.
Now he was covered in gore from friends and hated enemies. As the drill's fuel cell died after a minute or two, well after its owner had stopped twitching from the ruining of its insides, he released it and stood up to examine his handiwork. There was no feeling in it. Well, alright, a small part of him felt animalistic triumph. All his crew were dead, but so were a lot of damn Aquatoids.
Were there more beasts out there? It was possible those six were the entire Cruiser's crew. Had he really won? What a victory, what a victory. He fell to his knees again, suddenly barely able to move at all. He wasn't hurt, just tired, both emotionally and physically, and at his limit. All he could do was gaze upwards, at the lighter water directly overhead where he knew the sky had to be, eventually.
A thought eventually flickered through his mind that he should pray. What should the prayer be, though? 'Deliver us from evil?' 'Forgive me for my sins?' His sins had probably cost the crew everything, but he felt nothing but a slight detached amusement. In real war, people missed a lot. If those D.U.P.s hadn't missed, the first salvo, then his people would all be alive. This 'battle' would have been fifteen seconds long and yet another clean kill.
Nothing was clean anymore. Before he could ponder finding a functional harpoon rifle amongst the dead to press to his own faceplate, his radio breathed and sputtered. "Aegis Fate is on the scene! Visual sighting of the wreck…. Ugly Betty, anyone home down there?" LeFevre spotted the Triton, a speck still in the darkness to the right.
"Thanks for coming so promptly," LeFevre replied, voice never raising above a whisper. He didn't have the strength to yell, to rail at 'rescue' for letting them all get killed. If only that Triton had redlined from the start… irrational anger now welled up and made him almost blind.
"Like I said, she's fit to burst her lines, Betty," The Triton pilot replied, voice perfectly cocky and carefree. LeFevre and his crew had sounded the exact same way when they set out from the AT-COM ready room. Easy mission. Back home for supper.
Like an unhinged bipolar shift, LeFevre's anger turned to sorrow, so deep that it would swallow him up quickly. Everything about this mission had gone so horribly wrong. He started to cry, sobbing and whining over the open com. Command and Aegis Fate both heard the grown man crying and couldn't say a single word to comfort the traumatized Lieutenant.
"What's your status?" Aegis Fate asked, coming in with what looked like painful slowness, slowly growing larger almost perfectly above the Barracuda wreckage. "Casualties?"
"Everyone but me… and one other are dead," LeFevre managed to get out, laying face-down in the sand, motionless except for the heaving of his chest. "He… ran. East." The Triton slid to the left smoothly and made a nearly perfect touchdown, making contact with the ocean floor. Its hatch burst open and the first two Aquanauts leaped forward, sweeping the area with their weapons. All they saw was the weeping officer, who they originally took for yet another corpse. The troopers fanned out, weapons live and ready to fire at any instant, and had soon all vacated the large carrier.
Ensign Bu, ranking officer of Easy Squad, was near the back, and rushed forward with Easy's two Able Seamen medics. They reached LeFevre and pulled him up, patting his suit for ruptures quickly. It was obvious he was unharmed, though, if still crying like a toddler. The rest of Easy expanded in a staggered sphere, searching the submarine's wreck and crater as well as fanning out to locate and kill any remaining Aquatoids and locate the USO.
"Lieutenant LeFevre, CO, Barracuda-2?" Bu asked in a loud, strong tone that made LeFevre look up at him. He nodded. "Sir, don't worry now. You're safe, it's over now. Thank god you made it through…" He saw the sub commander look back towards the wreckage, and all the bodies, and followed his gaze. "… come on, let's get you inside the Triton." They led him gently inside the troop bay and found him a seat, trying to get him to calm down and relax while Easy secured the area.
Ensign McNamara was located by radio signal, half an hour later, and recovered along with his commanding officer. The USO's last Aquatoid had been trying to singlehandedly launch his ship when Easy Squad breached the vessel and shot him dead, securing the area and the day for X-COM.
Despite his running, McNamara stood beside LeFevre to receive special commendations from the X-COM project commander and the Council of Funding Organizations for their valorous holding of the line.
After stopping two suicide attempts, X-COM transferred 1st Lieutenant LeFevre to a friendly facility in the Brazilian Union, where he spent the rest of the war in the retirement home of Costa de Esmeralda, under supervision and still sworn to operational secrecy. Although the First Alien War as well as vague rumors about a second were now public knowledge, the project could not risk specific details of operations leaking to the public or press.
Ensign McNamara continued to serve as a submarine crewman after an extended leave of absence, and would be noted for exceptional performance two more times before his luck finally ran out, killed when X-COM unit Manta-1 was destroyed near the Antarctic Circle by an immense Alien Dreadnaught. He was buried at sea with the rest of the crew and remembered amongst the official rolls of the lost at X-COM HQ.
The Barracuda-2 Incident would live in infamy in X-COM records. That hour of conflict deep beneath the ocean would be one of the most famous battles in the entire war, when things were finally declassified to the general public. There were much bloodier or more spectacular battles; the Alien assaults on Darwin, Miami, or Tripoli, shipping lanes turned into meat grinders and bloody spectacles, invasions of Alien colonies in the deep, but for some reason, this incident would continue to be remembered across X-COM.