XCOM: Omega Six

Chapter One

"Stay with us! Stay with us!"

Shadows in the lit street ahead of me. Monsters moving within them, hiding inside my dreams.

Am I dreaming? Am I a monster?

Children run around me, my brother's face painted white and red in a demoniacal ghoul while a reflection on a window shows me wearing a Frankenstein mask running after him, as we go for trick and treat during Halloween, other children coming outside, a circus of monsters and freaks stretching over the street, until one zombie child stops, her face turns to me and the distorted mouth whispers from afar but I can hear the words: monster... killer... murderer...

One by one, the other monsters, zombies and aliens turn to me and whisper: beast... assassin... freak...

Blood squirts out of their eyes and into the concrete of the street, forming a red and shiny pool that advances towards my... boots? I see my assault rifle hanging limp from my hand instead of a bag of treats.

"Monster... stay with us!".

The crowd moves forward and I try to back off but I find my retreat cutoff by the small figures who push me forward with fanged fingers, scratching and biting until they engulf me as I keep try to push them away.

But no matter how much I punch and push it only seems to make them angrier, their black and cold eyes filled with rage, the slits extending almost until their ears, and a meaningless expression on their nose-less faces and square chin until they raise their heads and give cackling sounds in a never ending symphony, as their hands reach and scratch my face and arms.

I grow angry and start hitting them back. "Monster... monsters..."

"Come back dammit!"

Someone slaps me on the face and the movement feels like a steel hammer being slammed on my head. I feel a salty iron taste on my lips and a cough bursts blood upwards from my mouth and raining over my face. "We got him back!"

My eyes start to open and a shadowed figure leans over me, smiling in relief.


Come back.

I remember now... back to the Skyranger.

"Strike One - ready to deploy". The pilot's voice cracks amongst the interference of the com link as the group of soldiers wait as the back ramp of the Skyranger transport starts lowering even before the plane hits the ground in a somewhat controlled crash, making all of us reach for the handholds on the ceiling and inner walls to regain our balance as we are thrown sideways and then upwards as the aircraft's tricycle wheels nearly jump off the asphalt after hitting the street.

How did I get here?

The other three members of Gamma squad have also kept quiet during the past minutes inside the Skyranger. Right next to the door, Rollins rechecks the magazine of his rifle for the hundredth time, while Okabe has his eyes closed and head lowered and is apparently in some sort of mumbling to himself although I can't understand anything of what he's saying on his native language. And next to me is Dora, her braid rolling down her neck, who hasn't said anything since takeoff.

Well, she has been quiet for the past week so that hasn't changed, unlike Rollins or Okabe, who now are suddenly more silent than ever and we can only heard the wind and the cursing of the pilot as he regains control of the plane until it finally lands still.

Gunnar's death really got to her.

There isn't much to look at after a plasma bolt hits you square on the face – at least your brain and mouth get incinerated fast enough so that you can't hear them screaming such as when Quang had a new hole carved into his stomach or Martinez's arm being sliced above the elbow, both dying of shock and mass bleeding a few minutes afterwards but screaming the whole time on the active com link.

In a few seconds half of Delta squad was wiped out on the first combat drop in a obscure neighborhood in Germany and at the end only one soldier walked, or actually limped back out of the first combat mission, as the Commander was about to order a pull-out. One bare victory for the home team at the beginning of the season but things are only starting.

Now it's our turn after waiting for days for our chance to fight the enemy. ETA, less than three minutes and counting... time slipped since the pilot's last announcement before the landing. And that's about the average time that should take for one of us to get killed after we step out of that ramp. Or at least that's what we heard yesterday after weapons training while on pre-alert.

I pull back the receiver and cycle a fresh Enhanced Piercing round into my X-9 Assault Rifle. It's an experimental model, like most material that we've seen and used on the past months, some being full 'black' projects like the Skyranger supersonic transport that is about to transition to vertical flight mode to land after flying several times faster than a bullet. I had heard before of the X-9 but I've never taken it into combat before or heard of the EPs – enhanced penetration rounds for maximum power. Apparently just the mere existence of the EPs is in violation of a few international treaties – something to do with the depleted uranium inside them. Which we were also advised not to let it get into close contact with any part of our body – no proven health hazards but better to be safe just in case...

We are packed to be ready the second we step out of the Skyranger and into the area of operations – everyone is packed with brown body armor plates, assault rifles, pistols and grenades. The evacuation procedure must be advanced at this stage as it started even before we left HQ and we shouldn't encounter any civilians on the area – any live ones, at least. Them, operational orders to deploy, seek and destroy any hostiles before the situation starts getting out of control and one of the Council's countries starts fidgeting with the nuke button and feels tempted to end the whole thing with a bang and turning everything into big fireball. With us included.

No one really talks about Plan B but it was clear from the radio chatter on approach that a lot of aircraft are operating close to the AO and they are quite skittish and anxious to do something. And I'm quite sure we want to be a long way from here when it happens. The Commander may have complete authority over all sites but no one believes that any country will simply let the aliens go unpunished if we fail to stop them – and those F-18 Aussie pilots sounded very anxious about what is going on right now.

The whole thing started about three hours ago – Alpha squad was about to cycle out after a 24 hour alert status – me and Rollins had just left the cafeteria and were walking our way back to Barracks when Central announced: "Condition Red. All ready crews report to their stations. Condition Red. Al..."

We stopped on our tracks and started racing towards the Armory and nearly crashed into a party of scientists who had stopped behind us to listen to the announcement. Dora and Okabe arrived shortly after us and while equipping Mission Control informed us that Australia's air defense radars had detected several fast-moving objects hitting the atmosphere and crashing into one of their cities.

After a final weapon check we were gone towards the hangar – all squads wore their body armor while on alert and we packed lightly for speed. Then we got inside and were strapped to a flying bullet and now there's a red light on the ceiling that starts revolving and a few moments later the back ramp starts lowering down with the cabin being filled with the whine of the hydraulic engines. .

The tempest outside sends a blast of air through our faces along with a water spray from the hurricane winds blowing higher and higher. The highway pavement is a giant puddle fueled by the squall that quickly fills the space around Rollins and Okabe's boots as they move quickly forward after the ramp is lowered. After they signal go, I set the butt of my rifle against my shoulder and raise the barrel while slipping past their crouched figures in a quick pace towards the lit street ahead.

A bare glance around and something is clearly wrong here – both lanes of the street have immobile cars with both their lights and some with their engines working, the exhaust fumes raising under the heavy rain. And there's a green figure laying on the ground ahead of me on the central sidewalk. One of the abductees, all wrapped up and ready for pickup by the aliens. Okabe joins my side with his rifle also cocked and ready for action as the squad finishes securing the landing area from any hostiles. There are also a few squad cars visible with their top red and blue lights flashing but the police officers are nowhere to be seen.

It's all about Standard Operating Procedure – ours and theirs. Aliens launch armored pods from orbit on the middle of a populated area to snatch and immobilize test subjects and afterwards drop recovery teams to secure the goods before extraction. Meanwhile the country's leadership calls HQ, Commander sends the alert strike team on the Skyranger and available civil and military authorities in the area evacuate any remaining civilians and establish a three-zone restricted perimeter, with the outer Green for combat support and evacuation procedures, intermediate Yellow for security and containment and finally the off-limits Red Zone right on the center of the alien incursion. Then they wait for the cavalry to arrive or for the aliens to pack and leave, whichever goes first... at least that's the plan.

"Strike One is authorized to deploy, over. Careful out there". Bradford's voice sounds a lot less cocky than on the last mission. Despite his precaution there isn't much cover available other than the cars so when Rollins signals me to take point I start moving with a quick stride towards a passenger car to the right, while the rest of the squad prepares to follow my lead. After a brief pause by the hood of the nearest car, I set for the station wagon in front.

Until a flash of green energy bursts from behind one of the police cars and cuts the air in front of me right before I turn my shoulder to hit the side of the vehicle and its dubious protection. The alien who fired is crouched on the other side of the next civilian car.

"Get a lock on it!" The com link bursts with Okabe's voice but I'm already moving my arm to my belt as I reach with my right hand for the grenade on my back and after a quick assessment throw it on an arc that ends on the roof of the white car, making the frag jump and drop to the other side of the car.

"Eat this!" I find myself grinning stupidly as I duck back into cover before a blast and an alien cry signal the death of the Sectoid who fired at me. First kill. I check that the alien is down, his open gray hand visible next to the black tire.

"Commander!" This time Vahlen's voice is quickly shut off by Central after the full blown argument that took place between her and Bradford on the last mission.

As the doctor tell us over and over, no one knows what those things are so we need to salvage as much as possible. To me, I didn't believe it was real until we saw the live footage of the first mission and later one of the bodies they brought back. A head, two legs and two arms and are about the size of a preteen but that's where the resemblance ends. Their head is much larger in proportion to their body than a human, their bulbous eyes seem made of gelatin and they have no mouth even though they are quite capable of emitting sounds. And they carry zap wrist guns which make no distinction between melting Kevlar armor and live flesh when they hit. And all other sorts of glowing weird stuff that no one has faced before.

This one is surely dead as a yellowish fluid starts oozing from its body and mixing with the ground water. I drop one knee to the ground and scan the street while I signal the rest of the squad to hold. Zero movement.

There's something different though – on the previous missions the aliens haven't bothered with our presence until we engaged them. But here one of them was right next to the Skyranger, waiting in place to ambush us when we started moving.

"Three, anything out there?"

One final scan of the lit street ahead before I look back at Okabe - the rest of the squad is crouched near another car to my seven o'clock – and report all clear.

He signals me to advance. As I start moving I spot the blaze of a fire on a side street ahead – most likely some sort of accidental fire caused by the alien attack. The next car is in flames from my previous grenade so I need to avoid it before the gasoline cooks off as I'm dashing towards a station wagon with a stuffed Winnie the Pooh Tigger smiling at me from the rear window before my vision flashes to the position I wanted to reach.

Too obvious.

The Sectoid's head peeks briefly from the side of the van before it brings up its plasma pistol and fires. The first burst misses me as the green plasma hits the flaming car but another quick flash follows and before the brain registers the greenish lightning a sudden wall of heat and pain hits me suddenly on my side. Then I'm falling and the whole world turns dark and the sound of automatic fire starts fading.

Until now. One of my eardrums must be busted from the blast since I'm deaf from that side but I still can hear close gunfire. I'm hurting in a few places but it doesn't feel too bad... yet.

"Patrick, are you listening to me?" I open my eyes slowly, afraid of what I'll see. The numbness of my body recedes but a firm hand keeps me down to the floor, increasing my dread that some part of myself will be missing, like a leg or even my balls.

Dora is staring at me and after locking eyes with her fr a moment I try again to get up but a sudden nausea and her hands force me down. "Stay here and play dead. They're still around".

Play dead? I'm starting to think that might be better than to withstand the pain that keeps washing over me despite the painkillers, irradiating from my whole backside and the stench of burned flesh reaches my nose. The plasma blast did damage but doesn't look too serious and a look down to my holster shows that the polymer handle of my sidearm is completely ruined in a black enameled crust. Probably that's what saved the rest of me from the explosion.

Satisfied that I stopped moving she then leaps forward towards the direction of the controlled gunfire bursts at the distance. The Skyranger is still parked at the drop zone, the exhaust from its idle engines sending a heat column through the rain – it's ready for take-off at any moment by the pilots since it's too valuable for any of them to leave the craft to come and rescue me so if the mission gets aborted I'll be left behind for the aliens.

Again, just wait...

Thousands of kilometers away three people were clustered together and standing like giants over the small brown soldier laying close as his head dropped on one side.

"Sir, Alpha Three's vitals are now stable – he must have passed out again from that explosion". None of the three men looked at the technician who reported the information from one of the room's stations spread around the central area. Instead, the older of the three, an Asian wearing steel glasses and a variation of the green uniforms that everyone was wearing inside the room simply comments. "It seems the Medikit has worked – just in time".

The sound of gunfire in the room was starting to increase again – they were watching live footage of the area of operations that was currently being recorded by any cameras, public and private, that might be looking at the area, including the soldier's individual ones. A massive supercomputer housed somewhere on the base then processed all the data and used 3D projectors on the ground and top of the command chamber to create a virtual battlefield about the size of a small swimming pool where the buildings were almost the same height as the human observers.

The three men were standing on a small platform right next to the projection area, allowing for an observer to be also fully immersed on the virtual reality display if the system was set for normal zoom level. However, the display level was currently set so that the Skyranger in front of the men was about the same height as their knees. Two burning cars were still releasing smoke despite the heavy rain which obscured the view past them making the system dependent on the soldier's cameras.

The critically injured soldier was visible but they were keeping their attention on the three human figures the size of action figures that were methodically advancing between the abandoned cars – and on the red outlined alien that was also moving, appearing and vanishing as the troopers spotted and lost track of it.

The alien had pulled back to the front of the van after the car explosion and both Rollins and Okabe were taking turns keeping an eye on it while firing occasional bursts from the police car at the direction of the bus stop that it was using for cover. Until the alien raised its hand above the head and fired its wrist pistol hitting Rollins on his left shoulder.

The soldier's grunt and curse was quickly replaced by Okabe' command. "Four, sweep right! Take it out!" The third figure that was separated suddenly dashed forward on a brisk pace, assault rifle ready on her hands.

Pressing its attack, the alien fired again at Rollins but this time it missed as the large soldier was hiding most of his bulk behind the front of the car, while Okabe started screaming as he rose his own rifle in frustration and discharged the rest of the clip trying to hit the Sectoid until a clanking sound signals the magazine is spent. "Out of ammo!"

As the alien readied his plasma pistol for a second shot Rollins nearly starts panicking and decided to pull back to the better protection of a parked SUV rather than the police car that he's using. But before the Sectoid fired, the remaining soldier appeared on the side of a close parked car after crawling her way while it was distracted trying to hit Rollins. And with a fast gesture, the soldier lined up her rifle and sent a spray of bullets that puncture the alien in several locations, making it drop first its weapon before dropping dead to the ground, with the pistol exploding into fragments shortly after.

"Hostile down". The second figure on the platform was wearing the same green pullover and pants and his combat boots towered over the smaller dwarf soldiers but he wasn't carrying any weapons and simply looking at the screen. Instead he only had a set of headphones to which he would speak occasionally.

"Two more inbound, Four. Stay put".

Three more Sectoids had come running with their characteristic gait from the opposite side of the street. A short burst from Okabe's X-9 rifle had sent them scurrying for cover the moment they spotted the humans ducked on the cars but they had been quickly to react to the new presence.

"They're doing that mind shit again!" Okabe's warning made one of the technicians to zoom on the scene. One of the Sectoids had fallen back to a safer position when suddenly its head started to glow from its inside with a bright light and a flow of blue energy started flowing from one alien's head to the other, making it also glow.

"Get Dr Vahlen back, she wanted to see this". The lead Sectoid was advancing, its head glowing with the weird energy as it was quickly crawling its way to the car nearest to the police cruiser and ignoring the shots being fired by Dora, who had stood her position but was now in risk of being over flanked by the alien's sudden advance.

As the creature reached its intended position one of Four's shots hit it on the arm making it emit a short grumbling sound but the pause was temporary as it shook off the pain and then reacquired its target, swiftly firing a shot that hit the unprotected space between the chest and helmet pieces of Okabe's armor, with the energized plasma atoms nearly splitting his head from the rest of its body. With slow thump, the dead body leaned against the hood of the car, with the helmeted head still hanging by strips of skin and tissue and splashing it with blood.

"Man down! Man down!" Bradford's voice is noticed but no one inside the room makes any reaction to the announcement. Instead, a screaming voice starts to raise on the speakers: "No! No! No!" and continuing the sound until a sudden hand movement from Bradford to another technician stopped the voice, leaving only the sound of gunfire as the remaining soldier started peppering the area around the aliens with gunfire.

"Rollins, shut up now! Four, pull back and rejoin Two. Get it together people". The officer wearing a combat uniform was stepping closer to the projection, while Dr. Shen had turned into a statue and Bradford's lip was twirled in anger as he turned and spoke. "Commander, we need to pull back!"

The Sandman's coming on his train of cars

With moonbeam windows and with wheels of stars

The laughter of the nursery rhyme keeps echoing on my head as the thump of another explosion brings me back to the area of operations, with rivulets of water running down my face. I've heard this voice before, three or four years ago, in a crap hole in central Africa that I try not to remember anymore.

Eventually our luck would ran out – Alpha was supposed to be the ready squad for the combat drop in Germany they set up the new rotational schedule. Otherwise my ass would most likely be blasted a week ago rather than today and it might also be quicker rather than leaving me crippled here today in the middle of a storm. Well, I would have been in Gunnar's position last week on Germany so I guess it would have been quicker than this, one moment you see a creature crawling around the line of wooden crates you're using for cover and you become too startled to react before it shoots you straight on the head. At least you aren't left afterwards to try to second guess what you might do different next time.

For us who watched the mission back a the base it became clear that we wouldn't be acting like UN peace mission or facing a small, limited, group of fanatics bend on changing the world according to whatever idea they preach. Instead, our expectations of the mission came down on flames the moment we saw the body bags being brought back to HQ. Not that I spent this week doing anything particularly meaningful since it might be my last days– the best way to deal with the losses is to ignore it and stick to routine.

Dora had noticed it also – she told me one day after weapons training. After the memorial everyone seemed too focused on what they were doing but at the same time rather distant – I hardly remember speaking to anyone else other than she, Rollins, Okabe and a few others during the past days – like having a pistol pointed to your head and be waiting for the click before the bang, I almost added, remembering a similar feeling. Only this time there won't be anything left to save or to lose – and we'll be the ones lucky to have died first.

Thousands of miles away from Mission Control, the soldier who had killed the last alien had just finished reloading her X-9 rifle and was considering her current choices. The two Sectoids were using the police car parked on the other side of the street to approach Rollins' position, with one of the aliens providing suppressing fire that was keeping the soldier's head down.

"Dora, give me a hand here!" The former Navy SEAL was still breathing heavily after regaining his tactical sense back but he had clearly cracked under pressure despite being considered an elite soldier. Despite all the preparation and previous combat experience he had 'OCP'ed' - the brutality of the first mission had affected everyone in different ways – they were outnumbered, outgunned and fighting the most deadly foe ever that they didn't understand almost nothing other than they seem to have no respect for human life or the rules of warfare. And the whole nature of the fight was still mind boggling for many – the base therapist had explained that they were facing an Outside Context Problem – they were facing a superior civilization that many didn't consider possible until they stepped out of the Skyranger and saw a live alien. Add to it the stress of a combat situation and mental breakdowns had become common during the first mission and also here.

It's killing time.

Moving quickly around the van but away from Rollins with her rifle raised to her shoulder, the soldier stopped and turned on her left foot, bringing the weapon's sight aligned with the front of the vehicle, while her body swiveled to face the Sectoid. It was also starting to react to her presence but too late as a the three shots of a X-9 burst all score on its head, killing it instantly. "Van clear!"

"Two, pull back and join Four!" With the Commander's voice anticipating her call, Dora considered briefly the situation. She had spotted the now dead alien briefly before the second group had hit and had been able to guess its position and approach safely without being noticed.

The two Sectoids had paused since her new position exposed their advance towards the car that Rollins was running from to rejoin her next to the van. The Skyranger was barely visible between the rain and at the distance and it seemed the noise from its engines was pitching up – the pilot must have been ordered to prepare for emergency dust-off. And there was still a third one lurking around and most likely trying to flank her position.

One of the Sectoids had started throbbing its head upwards and she immediately recognized the motion – they were going to do that mind melding crap again that had killed Okabe and suddenly she felt her instincts telling her to flee immediately as a sense of doom and hopelessness started freezing her in place.

Rollins had reached the side of the van and nearly had a hole carved on his shoulder armor from the previous wound he had suffered. As the leading Sectoid reached the car in front of he dropped down his rifle and instead reached for the fragmentation grenade on his combat belt, swiftly grabbing and priming it, before throwing it on a perfect arc that made it land right in front of the alien. The sudden blast shook Dora's spirit up but with a grunt she realized that the alien was still standing up amongst the smoke and rain after the frag grenade had detonated.

And then the Sectoid lined its pistol and sent two plasma shots that hit Rollins on the chest, making it grumble briefly into the mike and then drop lifeless to the floor. Suddenly the weight of the assault rifle felt like a ton of stone on her hands as the sound of her own voice felt strangled and distant. "Alpha Two is down. Help!"

The storm seemed to be subduing as the sound of the wind and rain started to fade away to Dora and her helmet started to tighten around her head, making her vision start to funnel. But as a wave of panic burst through her body, she focused her sight on the Sectoid that had fallen back behind the police cruiser and her fingers froze unconsciously on the trigger of the assault rifle, spitting a stream of bullets that started bouncing off the hood of the car in front of the alien, until a final sudden involuntary hand twitch sent the last bullet upwards and through the Sectoid's chest before lodging itself inside the alien.

It's killing time.

The inner voice surprised her and caused the panic to crash like broken glass, as the Sectoid screamed and dropped to the floor, ceasing to emit that violet energy and sending its weapon flying briefly before exploding into fragments.

"It's killing time!" Stopping her forwards motion and turning towards the alien who had killed Rollins she saw the creature also dying as the mental connection between both become severed. Then another plasma shot went by her, right into the location where she'd be if she hadn't stopped to deal with the second small alien that had died suddenly and without a reason.

But it had missed.

She didn't. Taking a quick stride right after her eyes and brain had registered the afterglow of the plasma beam, she caught the alien out in the open and out in the open. Raising her rifle again, this time she trained the sights over its body before pressing the trigger and placing the magazine's last round into the head of the last alien, penetrating the hard outer tissue before ricocheting inside and turning its brain into greenish pulp.

"Central, Red Zone is secure. Alpha Four out". The moment she said those words made Bradford raise his closed fist inside Mission Control. The room's occupants had watched the Dora's rush on the Hologlobe without speaking a word after the Commander's last order and now some of the terminal operators were either briefly rubbing their eyes or sighing in relief from the build up of stress during the past hours. During the first mission there had been cheers and congratulations inside Mission Control after Ichikawa had killed the last alien but again an entire squad had been nearly wiped out in the process – and everyone now knew the price in bodies and empty names in duty rosters. There was nothing to cheer about.