Author's Note:

Whoops, it's been over 2 months again. Summer classes got in the way a lot, and I've been writing some original fiction over the summer. And now I'm in graduate school, but I plan to keep writing as long as I can, even after I get a job. I'm having a blast writing fanfiction and original fiction, even if my original fiction attempts aren't really worthy of publishing yet and probably won't be for a while.

It'll be a while for the next update too, though. First off, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is coming out on PC and consoles in just over a week! I anticipate it'll be gobbling up tons of my time over the next few months.

For those who have never heard of it, it's a turn-based strategy game about defending the Earth from an alien invasion. Imagine a Sci-fi Fire Emblem, and that kind of gets close. Lots of differences: for instance, soldiers don't have any pre-defined personalities, and there's an entire base management/UFO interception side to it that's not in Fire Emblem (and of course, fantasy setting VS sci-fi). However, they do share this element: if your soldiers die, they're dead for good (or until you reload if you're terrible like me). And soldiers die easily. The original X-Com, released all the way back in 1994, was a tense, atmospheric ride, and I have high hopes for the new one as well. I highly recommend anyone who's a fan of strategy games to check it out (though if you were raised on PC squad-tactics games, do be aware that many of the game mechanics have been streamlined in the new one. From the footage and the demo, I do heartily believe the new one captures the same nail-biting tension of the original, but YMMV.)

...well, I also have an idea for a fun crossover between Advance Wars and the original 1994 X-Com: UFO Defense, with some non-spoiler elements of the new one. It'll start as a one-shot, but I might continue if it seems fun. I might get that out soon if I have time between classes.

Venture Capital V: Desperado

Jefferson Tower

December 13, 10:09 PM

Gunfire and explosions rocked back and forth throughout the ruined city, all illuminated on the satellite monitors in the Jefferson Tower. The data looked quite clear to the support officers staffing the command room: the battle was already lost, no matter what they did.

"Alright. All satellite access controls have been transferred to the Falcon Island HQ." General Bernstein, though not in the same predicament as the two generals he spoke to, nonetheless resembled them in terms of fatigue.

"Excellent. How much longer until the databases have been fully transferred?" asked General Vance.

"Worst case, it will be four more hours."

"That's fine. Should be long enough." General Carpenter stepped away from the camera at the console. "I'm going to try and reason with this bastard."

"Don't waste your energy on him," said General Bernstein. "Concentrate on the evacuation."

"What's the use?" General Vance snapped. "We don't have the time or hardware to evac all of the civilians! We can't take several trips because there's nowhere for them to evacuate to! Hell, Blue Moon controls the skies around the city, not to mention the entire upper half of the continent!"

"Then take a survey of who wants to stay and go, and run a lottery for those who wish to risk it." Bernstein scratched behind his neck. "Do you understand what would happen if we did not even try?"

"We'd be no more screwed than we are right now!" Vance blinked away angry tears. "Bernstein, Nell is off base, Jackal has gone rogue, and Max has proven himself too stupid to live! And don't even get me started on the mainland! Do you see where our Breakcom obsession has brought us to?"

"What was that about the mainland, Payton?" A cold voice cut over the transceiver, as the console displayed "Incoming Connection."

"Ah, General Foster." Bernstein was the only one pleased to see her.

The new face that appeared on the screen was a dark-haired woman with an unwrinkled face, though the signs of cosmetic surgery, makeup, and hair coloring were obvious; there was a unnatural quality to her face such that the average person likely wouldn't call her beautiful. Her uniform was standard, surprisingly lacking the stripes and medals that adorned the other three Generals, though she insisted on wearing an officer's hat where the other three did not.

"The mainland is not your concern right now, General Vance." Her words were careful and measured. "And might I say that I agree with Captain Allen's decisive course of action. While his methods are questionable, he is in the right this time."

"Bullshit!" screamed Vance. Carpenter grabbed him by the arm.

"Payton, calm. And Clara, we're not here to discuss that."

"Very well, then." General Foster smiled. "In regard to the evacuation, I agree with Bernstein's plan. Let each individual decide for themselves if the risk of flying through Blue Moon airspace is worth taking. A little brutal honesty tends to thin out the herd."

"And if the herd try to stampede?" Vance was indignant.

Foster's eyes narrowed. "Now, General. It may be the politician's job to come up with sweet patriotic lies for the people, but when they fail, isn't a General the second best for the job?"

Vance's argument was lost under General Carpenter's shout. "Allen! What the hell are you doing now? Stop pulling people off the walls, for god's sake!"

"Now, why didn't any of you guys tell me that General Foster was on the line?" The Captain swaggered up to the Generals' impromptu conference. "As for what I'm doing, didn't any of you see Nell go down in that fight?"

The room went silent in an instant. Allen stared at each of his superiors in turn, then laughed once. "Her and the bearded bastard both slid down into that there pit. Well, I'm sending down over some boys to look about retrievin' her all gentle-like. If we play it all right, we might be able to get 'er back and send the snowman to hell."

"Good to see you take initiative, Allen." Foster's gaze met his, neither of them yielding. "However, I would expect a little more deference to authority from a Captain."

"I apologize, General Foster." Allen gave a mocking bow, against which Foster only continued to glower. "However, time was of the essence."

"I suppose ignorance of the chain of command doesn't matter if one is a military genius... but then again, who in this room doesn't believe themselves to be one?" The tone of those words was such that even Allen's skin began to shimmer with a hint of sweat.

"The plan was developed upon consultation with Jackal herself, General. I do believe that if any can make a claim to military genius, then it would be a Breakcom, yes? As such-"

"Very well." Foster's sharp words reasserted control. Allen stopped himself from flinching just in time, but there was no question who had won that exchange. "But take care not to pull something like this when I'm around."

"I would defer to your judgment, General." Allen stepped back to the Break Amplifier. "And if you wish for a battle update through the Comnet, I must say things are looking up; our enemy's front line wasn't prepared to deal with an attack like this."

Eugenia Province

Newport Base HQ Tower

10:20 PM

CO-Major Sami hated the Break Amplifier. It was far too restrictive; she'd rather be up and about, stretching her legs. It helped her think better when she wasn't stuck in one position, because across all the branches of her Comnet, there were thousands of soldiers who were very active, either mentally or physically, even those not directly in the action.

It would take a fool to say that the battle for Eugenia was going "well." Vladi was perhaps the worst OF for her to match against from a distance like this – enhanced hearing was a nightmare for special forces to deal with. Despite that, Sami's division had managed to retake Orange Star's coastal base, which opened the possibility of a counterattack against Blue Moon's navy, though the pattern of Dark Spots shifting around the oceans made it difficult to predict where they would be or even how large Blue Moon's naval forces even were.

And now, one of her least favorite people was here.

"Flora Steele." Sami didn't bother to turn her head. "Come in."

Steele sighed. "Colonel Sami. It's been a while."

"I don't know what they were thinking when they sent you back to me." Sami wasn't in the mood to mince words. "Or did they actually consider that op a success?"

"Our opponent seemed to think so."

Sami rolled her eyes. "Who knows. The last five years haven't mellowed either of us, from the looks of it."

Steele nodded. "On the contrary, you look sharp now. My doubts about you from back then don't seem to hold as strongly anymore."

"Wait until we actually battle before you say that." Sami shut her eyes for a moment, giving some new orders over the Comnet. "You might take it back."

Steele let that pass. "So, SITREP?"

"Here or elsewhere?"

"I was told we weren't supposed to know about elsewhere."

Sami finally turned and glared. "That's a dangerous mindset."

"So is the opposite." Steele stared back, eyes hard.

Fine, be that way. You haven't changed a bit. "Our task is to hold the coastline and prevent Blue Moon from reinforcing by sea. Of course, we're to do this with just the troops we have here. We've got automated factories in case we need vehicles and weapons, but we're not getting any reinforcements in terms of manpower or resources."

Steele stared down; Sami noticed that she was still carrying large thermos around, likely still filled with the woman's favorite caffeinated sludge. As expected, Steele took a sip before she spoke.

"In short, Command has no plan."

Sami really wanted to argue with that, but... "Nell's trusting me to do more than just hold them off. We're supposed to put pressure on Blue Moon and make sure they have to worry about losing ground here."

"What do we have to work with?" Steele asked.

"My division at half strength, one national guard battalion, three groups of half-trained militia each numbering about a thousand, and the remnants of our Cosmo Land navy."


"Sufficient living supplies to support a force even of our size, but just a trickle of munitions. Hardly enough to support more than a day of attack at a time, with a two-day break in between."

Steele sighed. "So we're just supposed to stand around and look kind of threatening."

"I'd like to do more than that if possible." Sami brought up a satellite map on her screen. "This is where we have to attack."

Steele glanced over. "National Highway 37."

"There's a chokepoint in Blue Moon's supply lines at the small city of Grenada. East of the city there's a river with only two crossing points for miles. To the north, mountains. To the south, a thick forest. Two HQ Towers, in the southwest and northeast of the area of interest"

"If we take the southwest HQ, we'll cut off a good portion of the enemy's external supplies in the province." Steele nodded.

"I have special forces scouting the area, but unless they've got three times what I'm expecting over there, that's the place we have to attack." Sami turned to Steele. "Not much like our last mission, huh?"

"Anything's better than fighting Kanbei again." Steele headed back towards the door. "I'm going to get settled. I'll be back in five for a more in-depth discussion of the situation."

Sami heard Steele's footsteps stop before she reached the elevator door. "Although I think Nell made the right choice in assigning us together. Sergeant Levins can handle Max much better than I can."

"Nell's assigning a Sergeant to be Max's advisor?" That was more of a Sami idea than a Nell one.

"Gets worse. OF Andy's getting a kid who's only seen combat once."

Sami hissed. "It really is that bad, isn't it?"

The elevator beeped, and Sami heard Steele step inside. "The kid's a Projector, so he'll do well... in theory."

"Trained him for a while?"

"Trained him for a little while. He's got promise, but also some major issues, that kid."

Sami couldn't think of anything to say to that before the elevator doors closed. While she and Steele had their differences, she had to admit that she'd learned a lot during their battle five years ago. Steele had a knack for measuring a soldier, and it sounded like the OF's new advisor didn't quite measure up.

She hoped Nell was on to something. If not, that would mean they'd lose yet another OF, which could spell the end of the war for Orange Star.

The battle itself was more of a slog than Sami was used to. Most of her operations were based around small teams of special forces units, usually backed up by artillery and aircraft. In contrast, her job here was to coordinate large units with varying levels of training, and there was far more armor under her command than she would have liked. It was hard getting into the right mindset to take advantage of it, but against Vladi it was perhaps fortunate that she had that kind of force composition.

Well, there was one thing in her favor: she was at least as experienced in night attacks as Vladi was. If he assumed he could beat her at what she did best, then that would be his fatal mistake.

Fort Halberd

10:35 PM

For the first time in a while, Lieutenant Hadrian Nyberg noticed CO-Colonel Grit dripping with sweat. Nyberg was sweating, too – the clean battle lines visible from the satellite abstraction were a lie. In the inner ring of the city, soldiers fought in the ruined buildings, tanks pulled back and forth in the streets, and Orange Star aircraft periodically flew overhead, dropping bombs on the Blue Moon lines.

Blue Moon's forces had beaten Orange Star to the mall area where Olaf and Nell had fought, and Orange Star had responded with artillery, shelling the area and making a search-and-rescue more difficult for them, even though the strategy would lose out to Grit's range advantage in the long-term. Neither CO had yet emerged from the rubble. Orange Star had armor on the way, ETA thirty minutes, and some special forces with mortars and precision rifles already near the site, and their aircraft were still a problem.

OF-Colonel Sasha was in command of the retrieval team, directing them from the HQ outside the capital.

"Been a while since I talked to that gal," Grit mused. Nyberg couldn't believe he still had the mind for chit-chat even in a situation like this.

"Really, Hadrian? I prefer not to focus too hard on the battle. Gives you tunnel vision, see." Nyberg had some difficulty believing that statement. To him, it was obvious that Grit was focused, ridiculously so.

He tried voicing it. When Grit responded, his tone had none of its usual playfulness.

"If you say so, Hadrian."

Something in those words stung the Lieutenant, so he returned to staring at the satellite maps and listening to the Comnet, neither of which could summarize the chaotic battle particularly well. Grit had even stopped sending him summaries.

North Jefferson City – Ruined Mega-mall Complex

Sasha's Division – 97th Mechanized Battalion, A Company, 1st Platoon

10:38 PM

The reassuring tones of Colonel Sasha's Comnet helped calm Lieutenant Nemorov's nerves before the battle. He was glad to be arriving by APC; helicopters had never his favorite mode of transportation. That feeling had only grown after his first "death," suffered in the confines of one of those flying coffins; the crash had been the result of mechanical failure, and enemy contact hadn't even been involved. Nemorov had been revived with Emeraldine back then, but not everyone in the copter had been so lucky; a crushed head could rarely be fixed even with such a miracle cure.

They'd be out and on site within a minute. His platoon knew their mission: deploy at the mall area, fortify positions, and launch countersniping and counter-mortar operations against any Orange Star agents in the vicinity. Skliarenko's Spetsnaz would arrive later to back them up, and he had artillery and armor support on the way. A friendly engineer platoon was already on-site, but Orange Star's bombardment had suppressed them in the parking lot.

'Alright, you're here.' The APC's doors opened in sync with Sasha's declaration through the Comnet. As Nemorov and his squad departed from the vehicle, images flashed into his mind:

Orange Star soldiers hidden in the bottom floors of a wrecked skyscraper, a few blocks south, with sniper equipment. At least dedicated five sniper teams in the east and west, about 700 meters away, with IR obfuscation equipment that hid their exact locations from the satellites' thermal imaging. To the east, a larger concentration of Orange Star infantry; two platoons strong, with mortar equipment.

And armor from both sides on the way within half an hour. This would become a bloodbath for both sides if the Bowlheads pushed their luck.

'Second squad, fortify positions south of the pit. Third, west. Fourth, east. First squad, come with me to the north parking garage. Once settled in, all squads begin counter-sniping as directed.'

As Nemorov ran, he looked over at the main parking lot. Scraps of cars were strewn everywhere, mixed with snowdrifts that didn't look natural. The path that the glacier had taken across the lot was scraped clean of anything but snow; closer towards the pit, some of the concrete had actually been stripped away. A few explosions sounded in the distance, reminding Nemorov of the situation's urgency.

The parking garage wasn't what Nemorov considered an ideal vantage point for the current situation, but it was shelter enough for a temporary command post, and would provide a good location for RPG strikes against Orange Star's armor if they made it too close to the sunken rotunda.

'Epsilon. Status?'

'Lots of noise around here.' Nemorov paused. 'We're safely at site Alpha. Counter-sniping initiated.'

'Good. I'll keep in touch.'

Nemorov stared out through his motion-tracking binoculars, watching for any changes on the ground. Despite Olaf's supposed incapacitation, the snow was starting to pick up. In the long run, that would be good for their defense, but right now, it just made their jobs harder. The binoculars' inbuilt systems were good at picking up movement, but all the snow flying around led to tons of false positives dancing across his view.

Minutes passed. The only member of 1st squad experienced with sniper rifles was the squad leader, Galya Dorogaia, so Nemorov's Sergeant Vdovin was in command. The squad began to assemble sandbags and other fortifications in the garage, while Nemorov looked out to make sure the Bowlhead snipers weren't aiming their way. Nothing particularly relevant to their situation came in through the Comnet, and after about fifteen minutes, Nemorov found himself getting strangely worried.

'Colonel Sasha. Enemy movements?'

'They're hanging back. It's unusual, especially considering their actions at the front line... ah.'

Nemorov realized it as Sasha did. 'They know they can't dislodge us. They've merely moved rockets and missiles, with an escort, into position so that we can't get Olaf out safely anytime soon.'

'And Nell is left alone...' Sasha paused, and Nemorov vaguely felt a hundred half-formed ideas dart around the Comnet like wood mites. 'And they think our General is bleeding out down there.'

'Is he?' Nemorov had to know. 'And did you find Nell?'

'The engineers haven't found Nell yet. Olaf will be fine, barring interference; we have medics down there treating him. We have to keep their shelling away from the rotunda, though.'

Were they that confident in Nell's ability to fend for herself, even in the state she was in? Or was it something else, something they didn't know?

'They've drawn us away from the main front,' Sasha observed. 'And they're keeping us away as long as they can with the attack force that would be useless on the other front thanks to Grit's range advantage.'

Nemorov felt himself shiver. The enemy was operating desperately, yet there was still an order to their madness. By taking these actions, they may well have ceded the capital to Blue Moon, but that wasn't his concern right now. His concern was the safety of CO-General Olaf, and the Bowlheads had put him in a position where there was little he could do to help.

'Your orders, Colonel?'

'Continue counter-sniping operations. I still need you here in case Orange Star attempts an airdrop. My Spetsnaz units will move ahead and strike at the enemy indirects.'

'Acknowledged. We'll continue our observation and counter-sniping.'

Nemorov continued staring out at the blizzard through his binoculars.

Still no movement.

Orange Star Command Post, Alara Region

11:00 PM

David Carroll propped himself up in his seat with both hands. The last two and a half hours had disappeared, only fragments remaining in his memory, though the exhaustion was still pushing through every muscle in his body.

After the tanks had left bombardment range, no major incidents had taken place, although he had not let down his guard until the tanks were back across the near bridge. The infantry had moved up to guard the crossing, but the enemy did not advance. Even if the battle continued, his task was done. There was no way he could continue in this state.

"Consider my doubts allayed, Advisor." Carroll had almost forgotten that Stoneham was there.

The Captain laughed. "I'm not gonna ask about that now, though. You look like you've been at it all day."

"Something like that," David gasped.

"I'll let you take a few hours off, then. I've uploaded the location of your quarters to your PDA. Take some winks and I won't bother you unless a big one happens." Stoneham's expression was unreadable. "I'll be expecting you up here when the reinforcements get in."

"Captain." David forced his shaking legs up and staggered towards the door.

The "officers' quarters" was several tents away; on the way, David took a look out at the makeshift base. The camp was barely defended, and most of the sentries in the guard towers appeared to be combat engineers. The command building was the only one with walls. All the rest were thick tents that, as David found out when he entered, did little to block out the cold winds.

David's bunk was already outfitted accordingly, with the thickest sleeping bag he'd ever seen. Several other sleeping officers were around the bunk, which was fully-lit even at this time of night. David quickly changed out of his uniform into pajamas, and fell over on his bunk, but sleep didn't come. The bright light seared the back of his eyes, and even with the sleeping bag, periodic gusts of wind chilled him as they came blasting through the tent flaps.

He didn't count the minutes, but eventually, it become too much. One coat and pair of boots later, he stepped back out into the cold, staring out into the darkness, watching tanks and soldiers run around across a network of lines and squares in the shapes moving across his eyes. Darkness always did funny things to perception.

"Hey." David had walked straight up to a set of porta-potties, and a lieutenant with the combat engineers was sticking his head out of the one he'd almost walked right onto. "Sorry, this one's taken. Try the one to the right."

"Oh. I'm not here to-" David started.

"Hm? Oh, I see. You're new to the dump. It stinks like Satan's sauna in here, but these are military-grade toilets, man. Even with the vent up top, these walls are better than that damn tent." The lieutenant looked at his with an odd expression. David wondered what the man saw in his expression. The lieutenant shrugged. "What? Hey, I've read the manual ten times over, and there's no regs against sleepin' in a honey bucket."

"No... at ease. I'm just patrolling." David turned and walked down the line of apparently well-insulated toilets.

David was at the camp's fence before he knew it. The engineer in the guard tower gave him a strange look, but said nothing as David turned and started towards the next corner of the base. Several laps passed, and with them, the time. At one point, David thought he saw an officer resembling Stoneham, but the man didn't give him a second look and David didn't feel like pursuing him.

The cold no longer bit into his face. He idly reflected that perhaps it was a good thing that faces could go numb. The chain-link fences were bad protection, even with the barbed wire up top. What would explosives do to a camp like this? Suppose Blue Moon had helicopters nearby. That would be quite a thought experiment. As David patrolled, his sight reduced itself to just a few feet, obscured by the faces and bodies stepping around on a grid, little lines replacing their gunshots and footsteps.

With his mind dozing and body numbed by the cold, David didn't feel the officer drag him back into the sleeping tent.

Blue Moon Forward HQ (Coral Fortress), Alara Region

December 14, 12:30 AM

Petrine opened her eyes and rose from the Amplifier, tugged at by the usual waking stiffness in her arms and legs. "Captain Bashmet? Your analysis?"

"There are no Breakcom signatures from the other side," Bashmet muttered. "But their armored group could not have escaped across the bridges without some kind of aid. From the satellite views, it is clear this was not mere luck."

"So, a Projector?" Petrine stood straight and stretched. "But none of Orange Star's Projectors have an ability that could explain this."

"It must be one we don't know about, then." Bashmet's chair swiveled around. "This bodes ill for our strategy, Major."

"No." A click of Petrine's heels firmed her denial of the idea. "We still have the upper hand, Projector or no. We can afford to fight here and learn more about our foe's abilities."

"And eliminate him." Bashmet smiled.

"If practical, Captain. If practical." Her advisor always had the habit of getting ahead of himself.