"Open fire," ordered Commander Kinkade, and the twin Plasma Cannons at the front of the XSS Ashes opened fire into the oddly shaped alien vessel. "They're returning fire!" called the XO, and a second later a smile swept over his face as he added, "No effect, Commander! They're using some kind of energy weapon, and our armor's reflecting it!"

The Commander frowned, and he patched through a call to Dr. Vahlen as he continued to watch the unfolding battle on the viewscreen. It'd only been four years since the end of the Invasion, and she was still the foremost expert in the field of astrobiology. "Yes, Commander?" Her face came up on his HUD looking slightly annoyed. "I'm a busy woman - if you remember, we've all moved on a bit. I have a company to run, thank you very much." Commander Kinkade sighed.

"I realize that, Doctor," he said patiently, "but I figured you might want to get a look at this." After working out the kinks in a couple of controls, he connected the viewscreen to her call, and watched her expression slowly change to one of delight. "A new race..." she breathed. "Fantastic! Imagine the technological wonders we'll be able to glean from them!" The Commander's expression turned to a smirk. "I'll assume that means that Vahlen Enterprises wants in on all the goodies?" Dr. Vahlen straightened, giving him a slightly flirtatious look, as she answered, "Absolutely. As I believe is one of your old expressions, they will not know what hit them." Turning his attention more towards the ongoing battle - if it could be called that, as the Ethereal alloys were easily deflecting the alien ship's weapons - Commander Kinkade noticed something odd.

"Doctor," he said, "here's something that ought to get you all pepped up - they're using some kind of shield technology."

The look in Vahlen's eyes was slightly reminiscent of a child on Christmas Day, and Kinkade wondered briefly whether that should scare him or not.

The Ethereal War had been hard on humanity, lasting years, stretching well into 2019. Finally, one of the psionics that had begun popping up so frequently on Earth - Dr. Vahlen theorized that the wartime climate combining with the constant Ethereal meddling had forced this gene to arise - managed to end the whole thing. Colonel Adrianna "Paint" Coe infiltrated their main temple ship, killed the leader with four rounds from her Plasma Rifle, and steered the entire vessel far enough away from Earth so that the subsequent explosion wouldn't rip apart our little blue marble. The only two survivors of that mission, Col. Kayla Rogers and Col. Jon Bradford, seemed rather shellshocked afterwards, and were inseparable to this day. They were still effective soldiers, just... Considered quite odd. Even by XCOM standards.

After a four year war with a casualty rate that wavered around 50% per mission, XCOM standards were in themselves rather abnormal.

By the time Col. Coe managed to blow the aliens back to whatever hell they came from, XCOM had been building for quite a while. Dr. Vahlen's constant research of the alien techniques and Dr. Shen's back-engineering of the devices they used meant that when the war was over, XCOM stood as the dominant military power in the world. The technology was the best; the soldiers were the best. When (post-victory celebrations) news came out of the heroes who had stood between humanity and uncomfortable rectal probing, the formerly black ops project began to enjoy the first positive publicity it had ever received.

The President of the United States declared May 1st "Coe Day", and the other world leaders quickly followed suit. Statues of her were built, music was composed in her honor, and every major studio had long since approached Commander Kinkade about making her life into an epic trilogy of blockbusters.

After some mild bother, XCOM was appointed Earth's foremost protector to the skies, and for the first time began receiving proper funds instead of the scraps the various nations thought they could spare. An orbital shipyard had been built, and Firestorm fighter craft regularly patrolled the skies of nations with unrest. After two years, even more information on the war had been released, and people began spontaneously cheering at the sight of a uniform with that signature X on it. Dr. Vahlen had started Vahlen Enterprises, making money hand over fist from the carefully controlled patents of the alien technology. Dr. Shen, the former Chief Engineer of the XCOM project, had retired to China, and had appointed his son Nathan as his replacement. The XO of XCOM, Bradford, had been more gung-ho about finally coming clean than anyone, and appeared as the public face of XCOM more than Commander Kinkade. He seemed to have a knack for getting people on his side, anyway.

The nations of the Earth became the Earth Alliance, the Earth Alliance became XCOM, and XCOM provided plenty of funds for the construction of the first ever Battleship sized space faring vessel from Earth - named the XSS Ashes.

"Sir!" the XO of the Ashes called out. "Their shields are down! Should we attempt to board?" The Commander smiled. "Why not?" he said heartily. "Let the boys have their fun!"

"Aye, sir, engaging the EMP cannons," the officer said, and after a few bursts, the alien vessel began to float dead in the water.

"Try to stun one!" Kinkade called back to the team, before shaking his head and sitting back down in the command seat. Better to let them vent their excitement on the alien ship than in a bar somewhere.

On board the survey ship the T'Plana-Hath, there was action, and plenty of it. Vulcans, as a rule, had become a relatively peaceful people, and to suddenly discover a new space-faring race with interstellar capabilities that could outmatch one of their own vessels was... a nasty surprise, to say the least.

The chief surveying officer, T'Janikrel, was desperately trying to draw her phaser. For whatever reason, these supposedly primitive beings had suddenly become extremely dangerous. A bright green bolt suddenly blew open the bridge door and she flinched to the side, dropping her weapon. She was forced to crawl on her hands and knees, desperately trying to pick it back up, and then changing her mind about standing back up at all when she glanced around at what was happening above waist level.

"Think logically about the situation, think logically..." she muttered to herself for a moment. Hiding behind a console, she watched the Captain fire his phaser at point-blank range into one of the heavily armored beings, who shrugged it off as though he had been tickled with a feather before swinging a mechanical arm so hard that the Captain's head, neck, and shoulders exploded in a spray of green mist.

Forcing herself not to wretch, she saw out of the corner of her eye a shimmer, and almost without thinking immediately flung aside her phaser. The last words she heard was some alien language that went roughly like,"Smart choice, bitch," before an electric pulse slammed through her body and she collapsed to the floor.