XCOM: Viral Offense

Chapter 6

Dr. Vahlen was not panicking. The prototype plasma rifle she had been working on definitely wasn't in her trembling hands, and she surely wasn't watching that thing go on a tour through the security feed in her personal lab. The fact that it occasionally glared at the aforementioned security cameras didn't send shivers down her spine, and there's no way she nearly jumped out of her chair when it tapped Shen's shoulder to draw him out of what was presumably one of his rants about the inefficiency of the geosphere to display information. And no, she wasn't in denial either.

However, as she utterly terrified and nearly fried yet another hapless scientist that had the misfortune to walk too close to her door, she had to admit the truth. There was an extremely deadly and highly unpredictable biological weapon waltzing around XCOM's headquarters, and here she was hiding in her office. Rising from her seat, Vahlen cursed her cowardice. She had to act now, before that thing decided to stop playing with them and cut to the chase.

Plasma rifle still in hand, the scientist checked the figure on the screen one final time. It was in the barracks at the moment, leaving her a clear path to the situation room. The commander would be in a meeting now, but the council could wait when the safety of the entire base was at stake.

Before she left, however, there was one final item she needed to procure. In the bottom drawer of her desk, buried under a pile of autopsy reports, was a large canister. It had been a keepsake, a reminder of what had driven her to her current purpose, but now it would have a more practical use. Stowing it under her lab coat, Vahlen let herself feel a small smidgen of hope. At least now she had a weapon that she knew would work.

And so she stormed out of the lab, leaving in her wake a number of highly confused and slightly panicked scientists. As a team they had dissected chryssalids, interrogated sectoids, and picked apart cyberdiscs, but none dared to try and stop her. There are many words that could be used to describe the scientists of XCOM; ingenious, unhinged, brilliant, and sadistically psychotic, but as they watched Dr. Vahlen march determinedly towards the elevator none of them felt like adding suicidal to the list.

Mercer was bored. At first he'd been too busy keeping watch for inevitable betrayal to be bored, but after Dr. Shen started going off about the efficiency of the room's architecture even he began to have trouble working up a proper paranoia. Engineers had never been a large part of his diet, so the doctor's jargon littered speech was rather difficult to follow and near impossible to afford any actual interest.

As he tapped the man's shoulder to stop the beginning of yet another rant he half considered permanently dealing with that particular knowledge deficiency right then and there, but with Dana standing next to him that urge was squelched immediately. She would definitely disapprove, and the XCOM personnel surrounding them probably wouldn't be thrilled either.

Completely unaware that one of his charges had just considered eating him, Dr. Shen apologized for his distraction. "Sorry," he said, "I've always been irked by that thing. Why spend so much on an expensive holographic display when you can just use screens? So inefficient." Still grumbling the engineer moved on towards the next room, his motley tour group trailing behind him.

Overall, Mercer was unimpressed. He'd been promised a job killing aliens, and instead all he saw was a bunch of technicians working on computers. Dana was interested in it since they were apparently using all sorts of advanced programs to monitor alien activity, but the elder Mercer didn't have much love for computers. At this point he'd be relieved if these XCOM guys did turn on them, since then he'd at least have something to do besides glare menacingly at security cameras.

Fortunately for him and probably everyone else within at least a mile radius, the next room looked considerably less boring. Weapons lined the walls, some familiar and some not, the latter category mostly occupied by a series of rather boxy looking instruments. There were also half a dozen or so sets of body armor that seemed to match with what he'd seen the soldiers in earlier. This was easy enough to confirm, since a quick glance at Vampire showed he was wearing it.

"As you've probably already guessed, this is our main armory," said Shen, noticing Mercer's interest, "The more conventional weapons are supplied for us, but as you can see we've made quite a few improvements of our own." As he spoke the engineer picked up one of the boxy objects, and with a low hum it came to life. A red light began to glow from within as it quickly elongated, transforming into the more oblong shape easily recognizable as that of a rifle.

"This is the RS Sunray Portable High-Energy Laser, but you can just call it the laser rifle," he said, offering the siblings the weapon to examine. Mercer snatched it up immediately, eliciting a stifled laugh from his sister as he fawned over it like a kid with a new toy. "After close study of the aliens' weaponry our scientists were able to copy some of their techniques, in this case how they handled heat dissipation and energy consumption. With the help of Dr. Vahlen my engineers created a working prototype, and soon afterward this rifle and a number of variations on it were put into production."

At this Vampire was dragged into the demonstration at the engineer's insistence, his weapon becoming the main attraction. "Lieutenant Ramirez here, our top sniper, uses a variant of the laser rifle specialized for long distance combat. Since bullets aren't required it doesn't need to be reloaded, although it does require a cooling period to prevent overheating. The compact power source it uses does have a limited lifespan, but regular rechargings here at the base between missions effectively negate that issue."

Handing the sniper back his rifle, Dr. Shen continued, "Although our supplies of these weapons are limited at the moment, we are well on our way to making them standard issue for our soldiers, of which you would be included if you choose to join our operation here."

For once the engineer had Mercer's nearly undivided attention, a state that was rather difficult to achieve when you weren't something he was trying to kill. Regardless, he was definitely done being bored after what Dr. Shen said next.

"Would you like to try it out yourself?"

Dana Mercer had been through a lot of weird shit in her life. She'd lived through a zombie apocalypse, her brother had turned into a betentacled amnesiac, she'd spent most of the last seven years living under various pseudonyms to prevent secret agents from busting down her door, and she'd had to prop buckets of water over the window sills in her apartment for nearly a month to stop her brother from using them as doors. Even so, this latest turn of events definitely made the list.

Although she considered herself less paranoid then Alex, when he first told her that his latest shenanigans had gotten him mixed up with a friendly top secret military organization her initial reaction had understandingly been of disbelief. The fact that they wanted to hire him only worried her more, since he'd never been the best at working nicely with others even before he became a physics defying eldritch abomination.

So she'd gone to their secret base with him, and now both of them were in the aforementioned base about to test out some fucking laser guns. When they entered the next room Dana swore that Alex literally rippled with excitement when he saw the shooting gallery. There were fake buildings, tons of fake aliens, and what looked like an actual car parked near the back. Dr. Shen insisted on slowly explaining how to operate the laser rifle, but the moment the instructions were over Alex snatched it up and started taking potshots at the cutouts of various aliens with his new favorite toy.

It took him a little while to adjust to the new weapon, but before long Alex was sniping targets at the very end of the range. Somehow the ever stoic lieutenant got dragged into things, and after the sniper shot the head off of a target Alex had been aiming at the two of them started getting a little competitive.

Ten minutes later there wasn't a single intact target, not to mention, half the range was in flames. Alex had gotten a bit overenthusiastic near the end, and it turned out that the lone car in the back didn't respond well to repeated laser strikes. The resulting explosion took out all the cardboard aliens behind it, but it had also resulted in a lot of fire.

Fortunately, explosions and fire seemed to be a frequent occurrence in the range, since a well-placed extinguisher system activated almost immediately to put it out. Unfortunately, after the smoke cleared her brother was nowhere to be seen.

"Good shot," said Vampire, turning towards where Alex had been, "Not everyone thinks to shoot the car on their first … wait, where'd you go?"

It was then that he noticed the sudden hail of tiny chunks of concrete, prompting him and everyone else to look up. To the surprise of the soldier and the engineer but the exasperation of the journalist, Alex was on the ceiling. Black spikes from his hands and feet impaled the concrete, and at least his sister could tell that he was as surprised as they were to be up there.

Careful not to dislodge any larger pieces of the ceiling, Alex withdrew his spikes and landed feet first on the ground. The others stared, but he pretended not to notice and merely dusted off the bits of concrete on his jacket. When they continued to stare he grudgingly gave an explanation.

"It just startled me a little," he admitted, crossing his arms and hiding his face in his hood, "I forgot how loud things are indoors." Dana laughed and ignored the glare he gave her. Sometimes he really did act like he was just seven years old.

"Well," said Dr. Shen, adjusting his glasses, "That was, interesting to say the least. Anyway, the commander's meeting should be over in a few minutes. Would you two like to come with me to discuss the details of your employment here?"

Dana nodded, but Alex was still too busy pouting to respond. Sighing to herself, she turned to her brother, "Hey Zeus, can you just chill down here for a while? Relax, shoot some more targets, don't freak the fuck out on anybody?" He barely nodded, but for her it was good enough. "Good, you stay here and I'll go talk to this commander guy."

As she and Dr. Shen left the room Alex continued to sulk, but she was confident he would do as she'd said. For once things actually seemed to be going well for them, something that made her both optimistic and suspicious. Perhaps that was warranted, since as they approached the commander's room she couldn't help hear the sounds of shouting coming from within.