In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM 2, our understanding of the whole ‘Avatar Project’ situation moved forward by leaps and bounds. Three leaps and bounds, to be precise. First, we figured out the deal with the alien portal: it’s a gateway to somehow, an important alien base that might as well be on the moon in terms of reachability, but we learned that a particular combination of factors would be needed to travel through it. Second, we dissected the alien Avatar corpse in an attempt to get those factors. Results were… interesting: the long and the short of it is that we’ll have to build us our very own Avatar, and that I will have to ‘remote-control’ it through the portal and into the base. This sounds dangerous, and prone to unexpected errors. But if it’s the only way…
And third, finally, we learned that ADVENT is getting ready wrap this Avatar Project up. Which sounds alright enough, but it would mean the extermination of all human life on Earth. So, you know. We can’t let that happen. Luckily, the Councilman brought us — at great personal cost — the plans that will let us turn ADVENT’s propaganda broadcasts to our own ends. As well as a location that tells us were to look…
“Alright, people.” I plant my hands on the holo-globe table edge. The place: the situation room. The situation: the place where we can hijack ADVENT’s signal, and carry out the first part of our three-parter plan. The audience: everyone who’s ever called this ship home. The time: already really very late.
“As I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, Councilman Cato gave his life to get some very important information to us. ADVENT is preparing their final attack on humanity. One week from now, they’ll broadcast to the entire populous of Earth that they offering the cure to death, no strings attached, to anyone who checks into their friendly neighbourhood Gene Therapy clinic. Everyone that does, however, will be killed.”
The gravity of the situation is palpable: the faces of those that aren’t shades of nauseous ashen grey radiate a steely resolve. Nobody speaks, so I continue. “However, the Councilman’s sacrifice also got us the answer. A single-shot plan of attack. We get exactly one chance to stop the destruction of the human race.”
I gesture to the holo-globe. Behind me, Steve works the controls, and the globe zooms into a particular location in Indonesia.
“The Councilman’s data has pinpointed the exact location of the ADVENT Network Tower. We finally know precisely where it is. More importantly, he’s also got us a way into the tower. And most important of all, he got us something to do while we’re there. We can hack the broadcast as it’s happening, and replace ADVENT’s bullshit propaganda with the truth. The real story of what’s happening in those clinics and at the blacksite.”
Another gesture, and Steve zooms the map back out. Glowing dots appear, highlighting the locations of the main resistance cell hubs. I continue. “Once we do this, the world will have no choice but to wake up to ADVENT’s lies. Expect nothing less than a full-scale revolution. And while that in and by itself would be hard enough for ADVENT to quell, we’re going to fan those flames a little more. Our friends in the unified resistance are going to come out of the woodwork, join the largest insurrections, provide armor and weapons and oversight. If ADVENT wants to end this world so bad, we’re going to make them fight for every god-forsaken soul on it.”
The audience erupts into applause and cheering. I let them go on, a bit of a big goofy smile on my face. These are my people. My friends, my co-workers, my fellow fighters for the human race. And we’re going to save this world together.
I pick back up when the cheering calms down. “Now, we’re only going to get one shot at this. ADVENT’s doing their broadcast exactly one week from today! That’s the one and only chance you have. They do their broadcast, we hijack it, and the world fights back. And that gives us the opening we need to use our very own stargate…” I vaguely gesture in the direction of the Shadow Chamber. “…and blow up their chain of command from the inside.”
I let my gaze pass over the crowd, looking at each and every one of them in turn. “So that means be ready. If you have wounds you need to take care of, get that done. If there’s any training you need to wrap up, get that done. If you need to spit-shine your armor one final time, get that done. Because one week from now, it’s endgame. And I don’t want to lose this whole war because one of you forgot to re-lace their boots.”
I let the crowd laugh and cheer for a while, then start gesturing again. “Alright, all of you, hustle! Get yourself doing something useful. I hate to see you go, but if you don’t have bridge duty, I’m gonna have to watch you leave.”
I huddle up with the senior staff as the rest of the crew streams out. “All of that holds for you too, obviously. Richard, how are we doing on research? Anything you need done, anything you can get done?”
“I do not think so, Commander. I can complete the final autopsies, of the Berserker and the Andromedon, in a span of several days. I do not suspect anything major will result from these projects, however.”
“I suppose if we had more time, and access to some Elerium cores, there are some interesting study directions regarding advanced explosive delivery systems I coul-”
I cut him off. “Thanks, Richard, but sorry, we really don’t. I don’t intend to send anyone out this week. Can’t risk anyone getting hurt or killed this close to the finish line. The world’s gonna have to take a few punches this week, if the aliens pull anything. So that means no Elerium cores.”
“I understand, Commander. In that case, I have nothing pressing to pursue.”
“Thank you, Richard. And sorry for cutting you off.” I turn to Lily. “How about you? Anything on the engineering front?”
Lily shrugs. “We’re good. Avenger’s working as intended, all systems green. Only interesting thing for us is the psionic training, I think. And to hear Dao tell it, one week should be just about enough time for Soberano and Vecre to wrap up their latest programs.”
Lily smirks. “Like I said, we’re good.”
I smirk back. “Loud and clear.” Then I turn to Steve. “And I don’t suppose you’re the one to throw a spanner in the works?”
Steve’s face is the strangest mix of elation and steely-eyed determination I’ve ever seen. “Not in a million years, Commander. Not when we’ve got a war to win.”
It’s amazing how fast a week passes when you choose to not engage with the aliens at all. Day Zero arrives in no time at all.
“So, what’s our game plan?” Steve asks. We’re going over final details and assignments in the high security situation room, which only incidentally looks exactly like my office.
“Well,” I say, “it goes like this. Cato didn’t just get us the location of the ADVENT Network Tower, he got us a way in. Turns out the damn thing was hidden in plain sight, in an office tower complex in Bangalore. But because it’s hidden, they can’t just keep all the humans out. And, in fact, the lower parts of those office towers are in regular human use. That’s how we’re getting in.”
“You want to have our soldiers just walk in? Why not just use the Skyranger?”
“The area’s too well guarded. Firebrand would get shot down if she gets within a mile.” I smile enigmatically. “But we are walking in, yes. Cato crafted for us three assumed identities, for a janitorial group assigned to the building. Uniforms, too. Three of our soldiers will take those identities, put on the uniforms, stuff all their gear inside a bag, and enter the building. Put some broad hats on them, nobody’s gonna recognize anyone from the wanted posters. And from there, it’s just a matter of… taking the stairs up, putting their gear on one floor below the roof, and then go for it.”
“Huh.” Steve sits up straight. “The roof’s where the control panel is?”
“You got it. It’s also supposed to be relatively lightly guarded, which makes up for the fact that we can only get three people in there.”
“And then our soldiers find the panel, hack the signal, and get the hell out.”
I nod. “Cato actually thought of that too. Hacking the signal disrupts the ADVENT psionic network in the immediate vicinity. That should disable the troops and defenses nearby long enough for Firebrand to swoop in and make a daring rescue.”
“Hah! She’ll like that.”
I pull up Cato’s overview sheet. “There’s one more thing we can do to swing the odds in our favour, too. Cato got us this entrance partially by finding the actual janitor crew, and… let’s say convincing them to stay home for the day. But there are more people, actual people, working in that building. Enough, in fact, that some of them are bound to have some resistance sympathies. I’ve had the engineering crew pull all our intel together to pinpoint a few of them. We’re contacting them as we speak. Let’s hope some of them are amenable to helping us out, in whatever way they can.”
Steve chuckles. “That’s like the Councilman alright. Always finding us help in the most unlikely places. With his last breath and beyond.”
“Which just leaves us…” I bring up our soldier list.
Steve and I pore over the list together. He finally speaks up, “so, what’s your thinking?”
“Well,” I say, “it’s a hacking mission. And look at those Shadow Chamber predictions. It’d be downright negligent to not send Twintails here.”
Steve nods. “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.” He taps a few buttons, and the screen switches to display the tower roof’s floorplan. “And look at this. Fairly small space, but lots of clear sight lines. Sounds like an excellent place for a short-range sharpshooter to do some damage. Don’t know if you had Frederick on your shortlist yet, but…”
“No, you read my mind. He’ll do great.”
“And for the last one…” Steve stares at our collection of paper printouts for a bit. “Given the stealth nature of the mission… maybe someone who’s good at sneaking around? Jones or DeHaan could do good here. Or maybe Fitzpatrick in a pinch…”
“Nah,” I say. “I’ve already decided on my third pick. It’s Barr.”
“Barr?” Steve says incredulously. “What happened to the stealth focus?”
“Steve, trust me. I got my reasons. I know what I’m doing.”
“Alright, Jarenth, I’m trusting you. Let’s just hope things work out like you want them.”
“Steve, please,” I say, “when do my plans ever not work out?”
Steve raises an eyebrow at me, but says nothing.
And then we move.
“C-Commander.” Twintails’ voice coming from the radio sends a small shiver of relief down my spine. “We’re in position. Infiltration went smooth… smoothly. They don’t know we’re here.”
“Alright, you three. This is it. Move forward, keep a low profile for as long as possible, and hack that station as soon as you can. You hack it, everything here goes offline, and we can get you out. And Godspeed. The world is counting on you.” I pause. “No pressure, though.”
The squad stays out of sight for a short amount of time. One resistance-sympathetic building technician has scrambled the alarm sensors, making it so that every squad member is individually concealed from the aliens. I figure this could be useful if we want to rush towards the objective instead of getting embroiled in fights. And just in case that doesn’t happen, the aliens’ internal comms are being jammed by another (presumably way-underpaid) comms operator. That should make them easier to hit.
Sadly, the ‘stealth’ option does not last long.
“Commander!” Frederick whispers. “Contacts. Archon and Andromedon. Headed our way, too, blocking the only passage. Advice?”
I sigh. “And here I was really hoping to get through this quietly. But alright. Barr?”
“You know what to do.”
“Solid hit, Commander,” Frederick chimes in, “but they’re not down. Permission to engage?”
“Make it so, Colonel.”
Barr’s and Frederick’s combined attack drops the Andromedon… once. So we still have two enemies to contend with, and two-thirds of the squad is already revealed. This individual concealment was not as useful as I was hoping. Twintails is the only one still hidden; and against all odds, her stun-hacking the Andromedon Shell does not reveal her. I don’t know why I figured it would. Wrong interpretation?
Then, in the distance, I hear the telltale sound of a plan going south as another Andromedon/Archon combo walks into full view.
“Commander!” Barr yells. “Gettin’… *oof* …gettin’ kinda crowded in here! Could use a plan, stat!”
“Alright!” I say forcefully. “Frederick! Free pistol shot, then Lightning Hands on the robot shell, then Face-Off. Pump out as many rounds as you can!”
“Barr! Melt that Archon!”
Okay. The heat is… still on, to be honest, but reduced to a more manageable simmer. Still hot, though: the second Andromedon brings Frederick down to quarter health in a single shot, demonstrating that this mission is constantly balancing on a knife’s edge.
Three rapid bursts of fire later, Frederick radios in. “Archon down, Commander. But… *cough* …I could use some medical assistance.”
“Twintails,” I say, “get that man a medkit. And Barr, get in a good position to take out that Andromedon. Just don’t go forward too far, because we don’t know…”
I smack my forehead, loudly, and then quietly curse Murphy and his infernal law. Next to me, Steve mutters, “Whoever told us this place was ‘lightly guarded’ was either a liar or an optimist.”
“C-Commander?” Twintails sounds a little more distraught than usual. “Advice?”
“Belay that medkit, Colonel. Sorry, Frederick, but we’ll have to gamble. Holotar instead. Let’s hope they haven’t wised up to that trick.”
In an incredible two-turn show of marksmanship, the squad eliminates all the aliens pretty smoothly. Barr’s acid grenade sets the stage for Frederick to pistol-snipe both the Sectoid (to death) and the Archon (to a level where the acid finishes it off), leaving Twintails free to heal him. And while the Andromedon — eerily immune to acid, I only now notice — lands one of its devastating suit punches on Barr, her armor cushions the blow. And once it’s close-by… Well, I don’t have to spell out for you what a close-range Barr/Frederick combo does to the thing, do I? Much like before, they kill off the creature’s organic stage, and Twintails shuts down the robot stage hard. Killing it after that is basically child’s play.
I let out a deep breath of relief. “Great work, you three. Heal up, reload, and proceed. We’re still expecting… three more alien units, if the Shadow Chamber was correct. Kill those or avoid those, and we’re home free.”
Nothing presents itself immediately, so the squad advances carefully. We get a good look at the alien transmitter this way. It is rather obviously alien; it’s obvious why they chose to hide it where they did.
The third-to-last alien, a Codex, is encountered right outside the entry door. Twintails tries to take it down subtly.
“Alright, guys, final push! Focus-fire down the closest Archon!”
“And try to take out that Codex in a single shot, too! Don’t forget what happens when you…”
I muffle another sigh. “Alright, well, you… you guys know what to do. Bring it on home, okay?”
The final push honestly ends up pretty tense. An Archon in close range is never anyone’s idea of a good time, and Barr’s armor ends up on life-saving duty another time. And one of the Codices places an excellent application of its weapon-draining attack, hitting three targets in a single blast.
But it doesn’t help them. Frederick’s sniper rifle is drained, but his pistol is completely unaffected; he drops the remaining two Codices with a perfect-accuracy Face-Off. And while Barr and Twintails just don’t manage to finish the Archon off…
All that’s left after that is hacking the broadcast station console. It’s almost trivial at this point.
And that, as they say, is that.
“Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” Steve nods twice, then takes off his headset and swivels to face me. He’s smiling. “That was Firebrand. The extraction was a success. It went just like predicted. ADVENT troops and defenses in the area are just… dropping.”
“Excellent.” I switch on the main bridge viewscreen. “Then let’s see if the other effects came through too.”
On-screen, ADVENT’s Speaker is giving their live address. A giant screen behind them shows the clip being broadcast to television sets all over the world. For the moment, it looks like ADVENT’s intended message.
“Fellow citizens. For twenty years, we have put our trust in ADVENT, in the Elders — because we believed a better future is possible for all of us. Today, that trust, that belief, has been rewarded.”
As he talks, the screen suddenly bursts into static — and then back into broadcasting life. While the Speaker talks on, unaware of what’s happening — “ADVENT peacekeeping forces are traveling across the world, carrying the greatest gift from the Elders” — the screen shows not their intended propaganda… but footage from the ADVENT retaliation strikes against resistance havens.
“Haha, nice.” I hold up my hand, correctly trusting Steve to high-five it. “Let’s see how this plays out, huh.”
“Wanna bet they keep talking until the broadcast ends? That guy loves the sound of their own voice.”
The broadcast continues on-screen. “A revolutionary gene therapy, yes. But so much more.” Cut to a shot of human bodies floating in green tube, the horror of the blacksite. “This is and end to disease. To decay. To pain.” Cut to shots of human experimentation, to ADVENT soldiers — clearly alien — being vat-grown. “The beginnings of a new tomorrow… available to all of us, today.” Cut to more green tubes, and human beings, rendered in their factories.
“Truly, humanity finally takes its rightful place amongst the stars,” the Speaker finishes with a flourish. And only then do they look up from their auto-cue… and notice the shocked, disgusted crowd, slowly boiling into an angry mob.
The Speaker spins around, shocked, to finally see what they’ve been talking over — at this particular moment, a shot of dozens of dead human bodies floating in a pile of green goo. Then a rock whizzes past their head and *thuds* into the screen. They turn around again, only to face the boldest and the angriest of the mob climbing the stage first. More rocks are being thrown. One hits the camera, which falls down on a side…
The footage cuts out.
I look at Steve with a big doofy grin. “Well. I’m prepared to call that an unqualified success. Looks like we got a world revolution on our hands.”
Steve grins back. “Looks like. Sorry I doubted you earlier. Although, can I ask you one thing?”
“Why did you send Barr? Was it the Andromedon armor? I mean, she did a great job, but that’s the only reason I can think of to specifically send her?”
“That was one of the reasons,” I say. “But there was another, even more important one.”
“And that was?”
“She was close to reaching her full potential.”
Next episode: Step two. While XCOM at large shapes and leads a global revolution, a team of select operatives — lead by yours truly — passes through the portal and infiltrates the alien seat of power.