In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM 2, the aliens defied established conventions when they came after us, shooting the Avenger from the sky. I mean, it got better. But still. Their, er, let’s say marginally provoked attack shook us out of a state of complacent reverie. We’ve been feeling too invincible for too long, I think. That feeling is definitely gone now.
I do wish there was something we could do to get back at the aliens over this. I mean, more so than we usually ‘get back’ at them. Stealing their unique psionic powers is nice from a ‘screw you’ perspective, but some more direct counter-strike would be good for morale, if nothing else…
“Commander!” Steve almost barges into my office. “Quick, where are we right now?”
“Er… hey, Steve,” I say slowly. “Good to see you too. You’re, er, kind of interrupting my science meeting here.” I nod towards Richard, seated across from me, currently frozen mid-explanatory gesture.
“Yeah, yeah, sorry,” Steve says hurriedly. “It’s important though. Where are we right now? General location?”
“Chile. Er, New Chile, I guess. Couple hundred miles from Santiago, last time I checked the radar.”
“New Chile. That works, that’s probabl-” Steve pauses mid-ramble. “Wait, why the hell are we in New Chile?”
“Three reasons,” I say, holding up three fingers. “First, New Chile puts us in range of South Africa, and by extension in range of South Africa’s alien facility. Two, New Chile has connections to Australia, which we don’t really have any good inroads in yet. And three, I remember South America having some excellent tactical minds during the last war. Probably still, if the history I read is any indication. And the fact that there’s any resistance at all so close to ADVENT’s global headquarters… I figure, if we set up a radio tower over here, we can get that tactical insight on our side and get to Africa and Australia more easily.”
“That’s good thinking,” Steve says, “real clever. But we have to get to the Eastern United States on the double.”
“They took down a UFO.”
Alright, that gets my attention. “What? How? When?”
Steve bows forward and grabs onto the edge of an empty chair. “Half an hour ago. A resistance cell in Canada took down one of the aliens’ patrolling UFOs. They built some sort of prototype EMP cannon based on Tygan’s plans, and blam! Dropped the thing right out of the sky.”
“EMP cannon?” I look at Richard, still in his own chair. “Were you going to tell me about that?”
“That is, in fact, the reason I originally called this meeting, Commander,” Richard says. “Since I was unable to contribute directly towards solving our last… emergency, I instead busied myself with logging as much of the effects of the aliens’ pulse spike as possible. Based on these results, I have developed several prototype plans for electro-magnetic pulse weaponry. Given the increased prevalence of mechanical units among ADVENT’s troops, I felt this to be a worthwhile endeavor.” He looks at Steve. “I had an opportunity to tell Central about my successes before you. He suggested we share this intel with beleaguered resistance cells, as a defensive measure.”
“Well.” I shove my chair back and get up. “Looks like both of you were right! Good work. Richard, I assume you have some of these EMP weapons for us as well?”
“In limited quantities, currently, Commander,” Richard says. “I can make a small amount of electro-magnetic grenades available to your troops right now. We are still working on integrating our so-called ‘Bluescreen Protocol’ upgrades into our current weapon systems.”
I chuckle. “‘Bluescreen’ protocol?”
“The name was Central’s idea.”
“Do you even know why that’s funny?”
“Not from first hand, Commander.”
I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter. Good work.” I turn to look at Steve. “And as for you: I assume you’re going to convince me we need to get on that UFO somehow?”
“Commander, it’s an excellent opportunity!” Steve says. “We haven’t been able to bring down a live UFO since the war! Imagine the technology we could loot from one of these things! And the research, and the equipment, and…”
“Steve,” I say, “it’s okay to just say you want to get payback.”
Steve visibly relaxes. “Okay. In that case, Commander, yes, I want to get payback.”
“Sweet,” I say. “Me too. And I think it won’t be hard to find volunteers for this mission.”
“So, what are we looking at here?” I ask, as the Skyranger roars down over the edges of Lake Michigan. Which, surprisingly, hasn’t been renamed to ‘New Lake New Michigan’ or something in that vein. “What kind of opposition are we getting from the Shadow Chamber?”
“Mostly the usual,” Steve answers. “Troopers, Shieldbearers, MECs, Vipers, Sectoids, and Mutons. But there was one new troop descriptor in the bunch. No way to parse it. So keep an eye out, I guess.”
“Don’t I always?”
We get a good view of the UFO from the Skyranger’s belly-mounted camera. It’s… large. Large-ish. Like the size of a medium house. It’s sleek, purple and green, with glowing energy fields in place of roofs and doors — I remember those — and only a few obvious columns of smoke rising from the impact point.
“That thing actually looks pretty in-shape,” I remark. “Looks ready to fly off at any moment. And it took us what, two hours to get here? Three? I wonder why they’re still on the ground.”
“It looks good on the outside, Commander,” Steve says, “but that doesn’t have to mean anything. People who downed it told us it hit the ground pretty hard. I guess they didn’t have a Shen like ours to keep them from crashing.”
“Ah, shucks, Central,” Lily crackles over comms. “I appreciate that, I really do.”
“You’re not coming up here to watch this?” I ask.
“Sorry, Commander. Working on something big down here. But I’ll an eye on my own screen in case you need any of my expert engineering advice.”
“It is the same for me, Commander,” Richard adds. “In case you were wondering why I was not also on the bridge with you.”
“I was actually going to ask that, so thanks. Looking forward to seeing what you’re doing, then. And keep an eye out, like you said.”
“Commander,” Steve says, “I do think we should probably hurry. No telling what the aliens are doing in there. Fixing their ship, or calling for help, or rigging the place to self-destruct…”
“Relax. I mean, you’re right, but relax. If they’ve been here for hours, the chance of them flying off just as we get here isn’t particularly great. Let’s take this as slow and steady as we can. Remember: unknown enemy. Troops, move forward. Use that old power station for cover.”
Initial approach is fairly uneventful, which is a fancy way of saying ‘there’s nobody there‘. The troops creep around an abandoned forest area for a few minutes, almost — but not quite — enjoying the scenery, before I switch to a more overt approach.
But even Neko and Blackfox, hustled up behind a chimney on an overgrown but only recently abandoned house — there are still lights burning inside, suggesting the owners must have opted for a vacation when a giant UFO came crashing in their backyard — don’t see anything out of the ordinary initially.
Guess what’s going to happen next.
Between Viel’s acid grenade, and Neko’s and Blackfox’s double Kill Zone overwatch — which lets them fire overwatch shots at everything in a small cone for a turn — the entire patrol vanishes into wisps of acid within a span of ten seconds.
“Well, we just exploded heavy ordinance right outside their ship,” Steve says with a sly smile. “Think they know we’re here.”
“Gee, you think?”
“Hold that thought…” Steve walks over to a bridge technician waving him over a few consoles down. When he looks up from there, his smile is gone. “Lot of new signals suddenly popped up. It seems like the aliens activated some sort of distress beacon.”
I sigh. “Of course they would. What kind of time are we looking at?”
“It’s only a weak signal right now, but… handful of minutes. Five, maybe six. At that point it’ll be strong enough for local ADVENT listening posts to hear. And if that happens…”
“…we can kiss our chance to smoothly loot this UFO goodbye?”
“We heard that, Commander,” Viel reports over comms. “We’re hustling, aren’t we?”
“Viel, when are you ever not hustling? But yeah, maybe put some leg work in. Neko, Blackfox, you two stay up there, cover the approach and the left side of the UFO. The rest of you, swing around right. I think I saw an opening there.”
“Roger that, Commander,” Viel says. “Let’s go smash a distress beacon.”
“Do make sure that that’s the only thing you smash,” I say, jovially. I hear muted chuckling as a reply.
“L-looks like you were right about that opening, Commander,” Twintails reports in after a few seconds. “There’s a broken force-field and a busted-open door here. They must’ve… come down harder than we thought.”
“Any aliens contacts around?”
“Handful on the left flank, Commander. I can’t quite tell what they are, but probably a Heavy MEC and… Sectoids, or Vipers, or something. And inside the ship, definitely a Muton and a Sectoid.”
“Sounds like nothing we can’t handle, troops,” I say. “You know what to do. Set up outside the exit for now. And either nail ’em if they run out, or hunt them down if they stay put.”
One devastating overwatch and subsequent ambush mop-up later…
“Neko, Blackfox? How’s the left side looking?”
“All clear, Command’r,” Blackfox answers. “Haven’t seen a peek here. Whatever the colonel reported, it either went back inside or ran off.”
“Good enough for me.” I think for a moment. “DeHaan! You’re still concealed, yeah?”
“Affirmative, Commander,” DeHaan replies in a whisper. “Am I correct in assuming you want me to go take out that beacon?”
“Right in one, wolverine,” I say.
“Honestly, I don’t know why our team is so fond of wild animal nicknames for us Scouts,” DeHaan whisper-mutters as I hear him creep into the UFO. “Jones is ‘predator’, I’m ‘wolverine’. Have you ever heard of a wolverine being stealthy? I mean I don’t actually know what wolverines are, but…”
“…But what?” I ask, after a few seconds of silence.
DeHaan’s reply is even more whispered than before. All joviality has evaporated. “Commander. I’m not alone in here.”
“Crud,” I say. “Is it that patrol from before?”
“Likely. Visual confirmation on the two Vipers. But the third entity is…”
“Not a MEC?”
“I don’t know what is, Commander. See for yourself.”
And then DeHaan swings his suit camera around, and I get a good view of our new alien friend for the day.
“What in the hell? Lily, Richard, if you’re not paying attention right now, you might want to start.”
“Interesting,” Lily says after a few seconds. “Looks like some sort of… armored environment suit.”
“I agree,” Richard says. “Obviously we can say very little from this distance, but the suit appears to be highly pressurized with some sort of green gas. Likely an atmosphere for the unidentified creature within. Additionally, the obvious wear on the suit suggests that this gas might be corrosive or toxic. I would recommend caution, Commander.”
“Environment suit,” I say. “It’s not a robot then?”
“It does not appear to be, Commander. But maybe one of your field soldiers can give a better assessment here?”
“N-not a robot, Commander,” Twintails replies almost immediately. “I scanned it with the GREMLIN and it can’t find any entry points.”
“Too bad,” I say. “Would have been a good moment to test that EMP grenade. But I guess we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.”
“Commander,” DeHaan whispers again. “The creature is getting close to me. Do you want me to engage?”
I shake my head, pointlessly. “Negative, DeHaan. You stay in cover, take care of that beacon first. The rest of you, though, open up!”
The next few seconds are filled with a cacophony of gunfire, cursing, more gunfire, and at one point the characteristic *wooshing* of an E.X.O. suit rocket — followed by the equally characteristic *BOOM* shortly after. Whatever this thing is, it’s taking a lot of punishment.
“Bullets are bouncing right off of it, Commander!” Viel shouts. “Even after the rocket. Me and Twintails and Tropy here can only do so much. And it’s inside, so the snipers can’t help!”
“Hmm…” I mutter. “How about…” And then my train of thought is interrupted when Steve raises his arm and gives a broad thumb’s up.
“The distress signal is weakening, Commander! DeHaan did it!”
“I certainly did,” DeHaan comm-whispers, a not-inconsiderable amount of pride hidden behind his voice. Now, I suspect you want me to help out my teammates?”
I grin. “Please do, sergeant.”
DeHaan’s shot cracks the suit’s protective glass. It explodes outward into dozens of shards, and with a sound not unlike a big sigh, the noxious gas inside flees out and dissipates. The unknown creature inside slumps over, dead.
“Good work everyone,” I say. “Round of applause. I don’t think we’re done yet, so stay on you-“
“Commander!” DeHaan’s usual calm is a little cracked. “It’s moving!”
“What?” I look at the main screen wide-eyed as another camera is swung into position. But DeHaan is not wrong: the ostensibly-broken environment support suit is clunkily, shudderingly moving on its own accord.
“Fascinating…” I hear Richard say. “The suit appears to be running a… backup control program, of sorts. So the armored suit can stay operational as a combatant even in case of the occupant’s demise.”
“What?” I say. “That’s not fair! Why wouldn’t they just do that immediately?”
“Look at how inelegant the suit’s movements are now, Commander. I do not doubt that its actual combat effectiveness has been diminished in this state. Still, the surprise and shock values of this tactic must be admitted.”
“Sure, sure.” A lightbulb goes off over my head. “But this means it’s a robot now, right? Fair has to be fair?”
“In as much as that would be ‘fair’, I presume.”
“A-affirmative, Commander,” Twintails cuts in. “It, it definitely shows up as robotic now. GREMLIN can target the control systems on the inside. You want me to try and hack it?”
“Negative, colonel,” I say. “I figure this is an excellent chance to finally field-test that EMP grenade. Viel, what would you say?”
The EMP grenade explodes in a surprisingly quiet blast of white-blue light. Lightning arcs all over the walking dead suit: it seizes up, sends out garbled blasts of static, and then slumps over. We’re not entirely sure if it’s dead or not… but then Twintails and Tropy add several rounds of gunfire to the mix, and that, as they say, is that.
“Good job, everyo-” I start to say, but then DeHaan interrupts me. Fully loud this time. “Commander, second patrol incoming! Shieldbearer, Trooper, and another one of those suits!”
I curse. “Damnit. Pull back, everyone, pull back out of the ship. Bring them with you. We have the advantage out in the open, where Blackfox and Nek-“
“C’mmandah,” Neko interrupts this time, barely audible over a chorus of hisses, “we’d love to help, but we got s’me problems of our own!”
The minutes that follow are… hectic. It turns out that it’s hard to ‘draw out’ an armored, entrenched alien patrol, when most of the ship they’re in is filled with big holes for them to shoot through. Which, yes, I do appreciate the irony about. The Viper situation is quickly resolved, though at the cost of Neko’s and Blackfox’s cool perch — partially because of all the poison the Vipers bring to bear, and partially because they straight blow off the chimney.
But the inside situation is a different beast altogether. Tropy takes a significant mag round to the temple right off the bat — though they get better. DeHaan is positively hounded out of the UFO. And Viel’s rock hiding place isn’t as secure and safe from alien fire as he thought…
…with painful results.
Even after a clever Holotar application gives us time to heal, regroup, and finally pull off the repositioning plan — the walk right into the open — the danger isn’t quite past. Turns out giant mechanical suits of murder armor can be pretty dangerous no matter where you face ’em!
“C’mmandah,” Neko says with a soft croak in his voice, “permission ta run away and hide f’r a while?”
“Granted, soldier,” I say. “Let’s try to get you back in one piece, okay.”
Initial hiccups notwithstanding, though, my plan does actually turn out tactically sound. Both Blackfox and Neko — in the safety of his increasingly-busted-up house — can contribute to the fight now, and their damage output makes it all that much easier. The Shieldbearer falls to Squaddie Tropy, their first-ever combat zone kill, while the trooper… elects to hide in the UFO and do nothing, for some reason. This leaves us relatively free to unload fire on the hulking suit monster.
DeHaan takes one more plasma hit before the first ‘stage’ of the creature falls. And while I’d love for DeHaan to finally lose his Shaken status, it’s honestly better him than anyone else: the special Nanoweave Stasis Vest he’s wearing heals his health over time, no medkits needed or involved.
DeHaan isn’t the last one to take damage. That dubious honor belongs to Viel: when the alien suit shifts into its second, robotic form, its first (and only) action as a free synth is to walk up to the tree Viel is hiding behind, rear back its giant mechanized fist, and shatter the whole thing in a single hit.
But that’s all it really manages to do.
And then all that remains is to hunt down the final Trooper.
There’s a larger-than-usual turnout in the Skyranger loading bay this time. Popular mission. It’s not every day we recover an intact downed UFO, and fight a new alien type, and test a new weapon, and a squaddie gets their first steps towards their eventual chosen career path. And everyone is still alive!
“So,” I turn to Steve, “what did we get?”
“Well…” Steve is beaming a little. “Ton of supplies, for one. Crystals, alloys, Elerium cores… And two corpses of that new type of alien. We’ve cross-referenced their description in ADVENT databases: they’re apparently called ‘Andromedon’.”
“Huh. I wonder if that’s significant.”
“Well, at any rate…” Steve gestures to Richard, who’s also standing with us. “The ship’s computers also had some interesting scientific data on them. Doctor?”
“Thank you, Central. And, yes. While most of the data we recovered was on the navigational or operational side of things, we did manage to recover some interesting troop dossiers from a secondary drive. Dossiers on the alien types ‘Archon’ and ‘Chryssalid’, specifically. The comprehensive overview found herein effectively alleviates the necessity for us to perform autopsies on these creatures.”
“Oh, interesting!” I fold my arms. “So what have you learned?”
“In the case of the Archons,” Richard says, “not very much. As we expected, they are essentially the Floaters of the early war, enhanced with human DNA and powerful melee weapons. I suspect that their ‘beautiful’ appearance marks them as intended in a sort of ‘figurehead’ role: either to lead the aliens’ armies, or as a PR move for human interaction. Either way, the extensive cybernetic engineering involved in creating these creatures is still evident beneath the skin surface, as well as in their flying apparatus.”
“That is actually an interesting theory,” I say. “But we can discuss that later. What about the Chryssalids?”
“Ah! In the case of the Chryssalids, an inverse effect actually seems to be true. The creatures look very much like their original counterparts, but behave quite differently.”
“Well, I am certain you have heard the rumors about the old Chryssalids’ ability to create ‘zombies’ to reproduce.”
“Doctor!” Steve says angrily.
Richard looks at Steve dismissively. “Yes, yes, Central, I know you are adamant that you have ‘seen’ these ‘zombies’ in action. We have had this discussion before. Nevertheless, without either convincing evidence or corroborating eyewitness accounts, I cannot acce-“
“Er, Richard?” I interrupt, raising my hand for effect. “I was there too. I’ve seen those old Chryssalids. They made zombies. Dead men walking, good as the name implies. I lost three of my best soldiers in one night to a Chryssalid terror attack. I appreciate your skepticism, but I’m with Steve here.” I see the latter’s shoulders go down as I say that.
Richard is taken aback for a few seconds, then recovers. “Very well, Commander. With your account matching Central’s, I will update my models accordingly. At any rate, I can tell you that our modern Chryssalids have no such ‘zombie system’ for propagating their species. Rather, the poison they inject with their bites has a particularly gruesome side effect. In a nutshell, if a victim injected with this Chryssalid venom dies without being treated, they will ‘morph’, for lack of a better word, into a cocoon-like structure. Fast-growing Chryssalid young them emerge from that cocoon over time.”
It takes me a little while to process this. “Holy shit. How did they get even more gruesome?”
“No joke,” Steve says quietly.
“I am suddenly not feeling as confident anymore about our ‘technological lead’,” I say. “We got lucky with those Chryssalids before, in an open and abandoned area. But what if ADVENT deploys them in their next retaliation attack? And don’t tell me they won’t, because they will. I don’t know if we’re ready for that.”
“Do not worry, Commander,” Richard says. “We will be. Shen’s work in upgrading our armaments is proceeding admirably, as is my own. We actually hope to be able to show you something we’ve been working on, fairly soon — a matter of days, if that.”
“Oh?” I say. “New project? You want to tell me what that is?”
“It would be more efficient for you to just see it in action, Commander.”
“Fair enough. Will this help us kill Chryssalids?”
“It most certainly will. Of that, you have my guarantee.”
“Then I hope to hear about your success as soon as possible, doctor. If my gut hunch is right, the lives of our troops might well depend on it.” I pause, then add, “No pressure, though.”
“I will be sure to relay the message to Shen, Commander.”