Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Long War, Part IV - First Contact

Previous: The Long War, Part III - Japan

X-Com Selections

X-Com selections were completed by the end of February 2016, and Colonel Bradford's strike team was finally beginning to take shape. Out of the 6,000 soldiers from the UN brigade Bradford selected a cadre of about 50 troops to make up the X-Com strike force. The selections were a gruelling battery of tests which gauged marksmanship, conditioning, mental toughness and tactical awareness. They were also non-gender specific and disregarded the soldier's qualifications and previous experience. As far as Bradford was concerned, as long as the soldier passed selections it didn't matter who they were, where they came from or what they did prior to joining the unit. Selection turned out quite a few surprises, weeding out soldiers with impressive resumes on paper and including some unlikely candidates. What was most astonishing was the number of women who were able to meet the minimum criteria. Contrary to representation by popular media most special force soldiers are not muscle bound strongmen, but tough, wiry and rugged individuals characterised more by their endurance, tenacity and willpower, and several female soldiers from units around the world seized this opportunity to prove that they had these qualities.

Female commandoes from Pakistan arrive at X-Com headquarters. X-Com, being under the auspices of the UN, allowed both men and women to serve in combat operations.

Every squad member who passed selections was allocated a call sign, and awarded the nominal rank of X-Com Private First Class. Bradford, whose off-duty hobbies included playing Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, created a pool of names from bloggers, writers and journalists who wrote about MMOs, and handed out these call signs arbitrarily to the X-Com squad. The only exception to this were the Japanese, who were able to create their own call signs due to their status as hosts. Squad members unimpressed by this took to addressing the Japanese soldiers with their own colorful variants, and it was only until much later when the Japanese soldiers had proven themselves that squaddies began using their official handles.

Bradford organized the strike force into four squads, and selected capable JSDF soldiers to lead them. Assigning Japanese soldiers as squad leaders was a political necessity but fortunately for Bradford he had outstanding candidates. Everyone respected "Okami" Takeda because of his outstanding marksmanship and calmly capable manner. "Tengu" Hara was a traditional drill sergeant in manner and speech, but unfortunately his English was somewhat limited, which meant that his tirades often ended up being unintentionally comical. "Akuma" Ishikawa spoke excellent English, but was dour, grim and rarely smiled. He was more or less accepted even if his squad mates found it difficult to warm to him.

The only problem for Bradford was Riku Sato, the fourth designated squad leader. Sato was the son of a prominent Japanese Liberal Democratic Party politician who yielded concessions to Prime Minister Abe on the proviso that his son receive a command position. Sato was the smallest man in the strike force, not particularly fit, and his marksmanship barely enough to qualify. To his credit it must be noted that Sato never lobbied for the position, but was railroaded into it by filial duty. Nonetheless his appointment strongly reeked of nepotism, and the Chinese members of the squad ("Xanziee" Tsang and "Dacheng" Nguyen) wasted no opportunity expressing this opinion to anyone and everyone. Sato's call sign was "Tora", or tiger, but he was better known as "Momo-chan" in reference to the famous Japanese legend of Momotaro. Momotaro was a tiny boy who came from a peach in Japanese folklore, while the suffix "chan" was customarily reserved for little girls. If Sato took offence to the nickname he gave no sign of it - he did not respond to any provocations, but stoically ignored it and went about his business.


Chinese soldiers during X-Com selections.

Selections revealed some outstanding soldiers, but also revealed some deep divides based on nationality, religion and cultural background. The X-Com strike force had representatives from over 20 countries as disparate as Burma, Croatia and Mexico. It was truly a polyglot unit, and the most surprising thing was how under-represented the Security Council nations were. The entire British, Chinese, French, Russian and US contingent numbered a total of ten soldiers in all - two from the UK, two from China, two from France, two from Russia, and two soldiers from the US. Overall Bradford was pleased with the quality of the soldiers in his strike force, although he still harboured doubts as to whether they would be able to put aside national differences and work together in unison. This was also the thinking of the major powers, who doubted whether a truly international force could be as effective as the special forces fielded by their respective countries. Nonetheless at its inception X-Com soldiers were perceived as little more than security personnel attached to salvage and recovery teams, which explains the comparatively low standards in comparison to more elite formations, and the lack of interest by the Security Council nations in filling the force with their best soldiers.

First Contact

X-Com's first deployment was in Osaka, Japan. On 2 March 2016 terrified residents called 110 (Japan's emergency contact number) and reported what appeared to be a UFO landing in the rice fields just off the Chugoku Highway west of Osaka. Eager to justify the existence of X-Com, Prime Minister Abe immediately ordered the strike force into the area. The UH-60JA Blackhawks arrived at around 6 am JST, but were informed by Central that the UFO had already departed. Continuing calls to 110 suggested, however, that there were still unknown non-human beings moving around in the area. Deploying his international squad for the first time as squad leader, Okami went into the area to secure the location for the research team. The squad was composed of the four soldiers Bradford had anointed as his future squad leaders ("Okami" Takeda, "Tengu" Hara, "Akuma" Ishihara and "Momo-chan" Sato) along with an American observer ("Izlain" Favre), two UK soldiers ("Bhagpuss" Taylor and "Milady" Edwards), and a Nigerian medic ("Syp" Muyumba). Upon arriving at the freeway the team made first contact with the aliens - a historic event under normal circumstances, but marred by the fact the aliens tried to kill them on sight.

The very first X-Com deployment in Osaka, Japan.

"They were not interested in talking," recalled Okami. "Milady wanted to negotiate, and she went forward with a white flag and no weapons. Suddenly she was being shot at by their beam weapons. She was lucky not to have been killed." According to Okami, the squad came under fire by alien plasma weapons - beam weapons which fired green pulses of energy which cut through kevlar and armour plating like "a hot knife through butter." "Lucky for us they weren't very good shots," said Okami. "We fired back, and our bullets and grenades worked just fine. This was a relief for us because we didn't know if our weapons would be effective against the visitors."

The firefight was over quickly, and the squad was able to get a closer view of their adversaries for the first time. They were underwhelmed by what they saw - short, gray humanoid creatures, shorter than an average person, but with overdeveloped craniums and almost vestigial limbs. "They looked just like the typical aliens you saw in drawings and movies," Izlain stated. "Makes you think that all those people that said they'd been abducted by aliens might have been telling the truth all this time." The squad also drew tremendous confidence from the results of the first contact. "In the air they had us beaten," Izlain added. "But if they bled and died like humans on the ground then we had a chance."

The operation was characterised by a curious incident which afflicted both Bhagpuss and Syp. Both operatives panicked and cowered under fire, and this lapse was explained by their combat inexperience. During debriefing however they insisted that during the battle they had abruptly seen visions in their heads which terrified them and rendered them incapable of acting. Bhagpuss said, "I felt like a 10 year old again, and my step-father was coming up the stairs with his belt in his hand. It was a really strong memory, and it just overwhelmed my mind for a few seconds."

Despite this curious incident the squad suffered no KIAs, although "Tora" Sato was badly burned by plasma fire during the engagement. Plasma fire cut through almost anything, but it also instantly cauterized any wound, which meant the operator could continue fighting as long as the wound was not fatal. Sato also corroborated Bhagpuss and Syp's story about experiencing a compulsion to run and hide, although in his case he ignored it. "It happened twice during the fight - I just remembered the death of my mother, and the memory made me almost fall to my knees and cry. It felt just like how it had felt when I first heard the news, but I just shut it out of my mind as best as I could. After a few moments the feeling disappeared." While Sato was able to shake off the strange vision he admitted that the distraction almost proved fatal. "Just after the feeling subsided I was shot by one of the aliens." Milady had a more scathing version of events. "Sato pushed too far forward and was shot because he was reckless and stupid," Milady remarked, not mincing her words. "I don't believe that rubbish about visions and such. He's just making excuses."

X-Com researchers do a preliminary autopsy on the cadavers of the invaders.

Despite the apparent friction between squad members the strike force performed efficiently and competently in their first operation as a team. The research and logistics team were able to bag up the alien bodies and collect whatever alien artefacts they could find. Alien weapons appeared to self-destruct after the death of the wielder, collapsing into a heap of disparate fragments which were later carefully collected by the forensics team and brought back to Central. Bradford was extremely pleased by his squad's performance, but he was under no illusions about the enormity of the struggle ahead. This was an important victory to be sure, but the war had only just begun.

Next: The Long War, Part V - Opening Moves

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