Chapter 3 : FNG
10 April 1999
The drive isn't too bad. The weather is nice for the most part, and I'd never seen the Midwest. I ask Ives why we had to be in a Van for two straight days all the way from the East Coast to our base when we could just hop on a plane, to which he answers kindly: "Because you don't exist anymore dumbass, you're off the grid. What kind of ID are you going to show the guys at the airport? We prefer to not have you on Delta flight 1-oh-whatever so people can track you." I decide I need to talk a lot less around Yves.
About 1830 on the second day, the van turns off the main road and directly onto a long dusty road. Endless rows of corn press tight on both sides and a strip of grass down the middle of the road reaches up to brush the bottom of our van as we bounce our way down the country road. The sky is starting to turn a little bit darker blue as the sun starts its slow descent to the other side of the world. There are no clouds in the sky at all. Is this what they call 'Big Sky Country'? My musings go down several of these long windy paths by the time the narrow road opens up to a large, clear-cut field. There's an old ranch house in the middle of the field. Rocking slowly back and forth on two antique rocking chairs are an old man and woman, sipping iced tea and enjoying the late afternoon breeze. They each lift a lazy hand to greet the van; Yves and the driver wave back. I just sit, a little weirded out.
The Van drives around to the back of the house. The driver, Eddie, reaches up to the reading lights and pushes them in an alternating sequence. I wonder what he's doing, but after turning the lights on and off 4 times or so, a huge rectangle of the manicured lawn behind the house separates and swings down, revealing the mouth of a dark cavern below. Eddie flips on the van's lights, then drives down the grass covered ramp to a large garage about 30 feet below the surface. After we're completely in, Eddie messes with the reading lights again, and the grass swings back up behind us, leaving a solid metal wall. It's pitch black, with only the headlights of the car illuminating anything. After the ramp closes completely behind us, rows of fluorescent lights flicker to life in the celling. The garage is pretty big, large enough to hold a semi-truck. Eddie gets out of the van, then walks over to a panel on the wall. He pulls out an ID badge, swipes it through a slot on the panel, then and enters a code. I hear the whine of an electric motor spinning up. The floor lurches slightly, then begins a slow descent. As Eddie makes his way back to the truck, Yves turns to me with that wry look of his and says "Welcome to XCOM Base Alpha."
Still stunned, all I can say is "Damn."
"Not bad right?" Yves replies. "The best the world has to offer, and some of what outer space has given us, is down here. This base and the others like it are the best we've got against the aliens. The folks you're about to meet are the best scientists and soldiers we have. Don't screw this up Yamada."
"How come you guys didn't just use Area-51?" I ask.
Yves barks out a laugh. "You believe in that place?! Kid, that's just a front for the X-Files fans to gravitate to. I thought you had more sense up in that noggin of yours. Guess I was being overly optimistic"
I'm so excited; even Yves' surliness can't bring me down. I can hear my heart thumping like it's the day before Christmas. I've only seen a few vids of the inside of an X-COM base during basic, and I'm super pumped up to actually see one.
The lift finally comes to a halt. Another motor opens a large rollaway door on the same side of the lift the ramp from topside was. A tall, black man with close cropped hair steps into the lift area. He's wearing a plain, olive green t-shirt and jeans as he steps forward toward us. "Eddie, nice to see you." Eddie smiles and replies "How you doin' Mr. White?"
White turns to Yves and gives him a quick nod "Yves."
Yves, with his usual charm, grunts "White"
White turns to me. "You're Yamada?"
I decide to call this guy sir. "Yes sir, Ian Yamada, checking in."
"Good, nice to meet you, I'm Lt. Douglas White. I'm the lead for the Agent team here at Alpha."
"Nice to meet you, sir." I reply.
"Grab your stuff, I'll take you down to your room then we can head out on the tour."
I nod, say thanks and goodbye to Eddie, then move to say farewell to Yves as well. "You're not rid of me just yet sport. I'll be here for a couple days for a site visit before I head back out." I grab my duffel and swing it over my shoulder, then follow White into the base.
The hallways are well lit, with nice hallways and floors. As White guides me to the Agent's living quarters, I mention how nice everything looks. "X-COM recognized early on that this would be a pretty long conflict. Since we aren't allowed to leave base except for missions, they decided to make it a place we wouldn't hate. There are no set hours for anyone, not the engineers, not the scientists, not us. Aside from tactical updates and daily training, we're free to move about the base as we please. Everyone still works their asses off as a matter of course. We're in it to win it, and no one pretends it isn't life or death everyday down here, and out there."
We arrive at the living quarters area after about five minutes of walking. It's set up like an apartment complex, 3 levels with common areas in the middle. There's even a small garden on the top floor. All the agents are on this floor, since we have to be able to get to the hangar the fastest. "There's about 50 folks stationed here. You'll get to know everyone eventually. We'll probably run into most of them during the base tour." We stop in front of a door marked:
White says "Here's you, drop your bag and I'll take you around.", then opens the door. Inside is a model of space efficiency and technology. The room is pretty small, about 10 feet deep and 8 feet across. Along the far wall is a full size bunk with drawers underneath and cabinets above. Closest to me on the left is a small armoire, with a desk after that next to the bed Overall the space is clean and Spartan, but comfortable.
I drop my bag off in the middle of the room, then turn back out to follow Lt. White. He continues describing everything as we walk around. "There's 10 agents here for now, although we have 20 rooms built up for us. Like I said, the top deck is our spaces." We turn a corner and head in through a door. "Here's our gym." I peek inside to see free weights, benches, treadmills, mats. The room is pretty big, especially for underground, there's a track that runs around the perimeter, with all the workout equipment in the middle. AC/DC is playing on the radio. There's a tall redheaded guy working a heavy bag, and a built Asian girl running laps on the track. Redhead seems oblivious to us; the Asian girl gives us a lazy wave as she trots by. White lifts his chin in response. "Hey Sumie." White turns to me. "That's Lindsey Hannigan and Sumie Yoon. You'll be working with Sumie as a scout on Alpha squad. Lindsey is our HWO on Bravo squad." I nod, remembering Yves' advice to say as little as possible for the first couple weeks until I get settled in. "Ok new guy, let's head over to the lounge next." I follow White out the door and back to the center of the level, then we take a left and go through another door. "Here it is, pretty nice huh?"
I nod, it is really nice. It feels like an old boys club, with dark green carpet, wood panel walls, a wet bar with a couple taps in one corner. There are high tops and lounge chairs scattered throughout the room. There's a dart board and shuffle board, a few of the lounge chairs are set in front of 2 big TVs with Nintendo 64s and controllers hooked up. Right now the TVs are playing news channels. There's a skinny black guy lounging in one of the chairs, reading a book. "Hey Donald, this is our new guy, Ian" Donald looks up from his book and smiles. "Hey, welcome." I wave. "Hi"
Lt. White continues; "We keep the fridge stocked with beer. There's a couple bottles of hard stuff too if that's your thing. 3 drinks per day if you want them. Most of the guys don't drink that much, but Mikhail always drinks his 'wodka'." White affects a low Russian accent when he says 'wodka'.
"Come on, I'll show you where the nerds and the gearheads work."
White takes me to the Labs and the workshop, where I meet a couple of the Scientists (Nerds) and Engineers (Gearheads). By now it's getting late, and I'm starting to feel the two days on the road. White mercifully lets me head to my rack. I take a quick shower and promptly pass out.
The next couple days I work out in the gym, play some video games and darts, read a little bit. We go out every morning for field exercises, working on integrating me with the team. I start to get to know some of the agents, minor stuff like where they're from etc., but mostly they politely make light conversation before a bit before leaving to talk to someone else. I ask Lt. White why none of the agents are warming up to me. "Don't worry about it new guy. It's hard for them to get to know you. You could get blasted before you even step in your first bubble. They'll be better after your first mission."
I wonder when that will be.