Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Long War, Part V - Opening Moves

Previous: The Long War, Part IV - First Contact

The Unfriendly Skies

The biggest concern for X-Com was the alien's undisputed mastery of the skies. Many analysts wondered why the aliens didn't just bomb the planet into submission. Earth had no answer for the mysterious mechanics which powered UFO flight, which allowed the visitors to travel at tremendous speeds with unrivalled manoeuvrability in both air and outer space. The only chance humans had of shooting down a UFO was when it deigned to leave orbit and travel in the atmosphere. Infrared (heatseeking) and radar guided systems seemed to fail utterly for reasons unknown. The most successful guidance system was image recognition, in which onboard computers memorized the image of the UFO and tracked it visually. The visitors could still outrun or outmanoeuvre the weapon, however, and even possessed some kind of countermeasure which fired plasma bolts at the incoming missile, destroying it before it could hit the target. In the rare cases of reported hits, it appeared that the alien spacecraft were also robust enough to shake off a direct hit by a missile. It was a mystery to researchers as to how the visitors could cope with the tremendous G-forces generated by their manoeuvres. The turns, dives and ascents performed by the UFOs would immediately render a human unconscious through "redout" or "greyout" effects. This was especially puzzling given the apparent frailty of the visitors. Preliminary analysis of the sectoid cadavers indicated that they were physically weaker than humans and possessed a cardiovascular system which made them vulnerable to G-force effects. Dr. Shen surmised that the aliens had some kind of dampening field operating within their craft which shielded the occupants from gravity effects - if this was true it might also explain the secret of their propulsion system, which did not appear to conform to Newtonian laws. UFOs displayed no wings, no rotors, or jet exhausts - the laws of inertia and conservation of momentum did not appear to apply to them.

The F-35 Lightning II, Earth's most advanced multi-role fighter craft at the onset of the alien invasion.

Despite the aliens' formidable advantage X-Com was determined to re-establish satellite coverage over the world, starting with the skies over their base of operations. X-Com launched its first satellite, designated XCS-1, on 28 February 2016 from Tanegashima. It incorporated stealth technology to minimize its radar profile, and had a propulsion system which allowed it to change its position in orbit. More automated spacecraft than satellite, it was designed to scan then displace in order to stop the aliens from locating its position and destroying it. To engage the alien craft X-Com fielded a specialised squadron of fighters composed primarily of heavily modified F-35 "Lightning" jets. These planes represented the pinnacle of human aeronautic design to date, and they were tasked with the daunting task of bringing down the UFOs. One of the most impressive pieces of equipment at X-Com's disposal was the Skyranger SR-1 VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) air assault aircraft. It combined the speed of the Cessna Citation X (the world's fastest civilian business aircraft) and the almost unlimited landing capabilities of traditional air assault helicopters with the range of long haul cargo aircraft like the Boeing C-17 Globemaster. Developed by Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries and still in the prototype stage, it allowed X-Com to deploy virtually anywhere in the world within 12 hours at the latest.
Egypt

The first operational flight of the Skyranger took it to Asyut, Egypt. Radar pickets established by the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Desert reported tracking several unknown contacts moving east from Israeli air space into Egypt. Egyptian television and radio shortly began broadcasting confused and scattered reports about extra-terrestrials on the streets of Asyut. A formal request was made soon thereafter to the Egyptian government to allow X-Com to enter their airspace. It was initially ignored, but repeated attempts by the Secretary-General himself eventually elicited a grudging response from  President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. El-Sisi complained to UN Secretary-General Ban that the situation was well in hand, but reluctantly gave the go-ahead for a salvage and recovery mission. Egyptian TV showed several soldiers brandishing a dead sectoid aloft with glee while firing their weapons in the air. Other footage showed dead aliens being dragged bodily on the streets by furious civilians chanting "Allahu akbar (God is great)!" Nonetheless X-Com Force Commander Iwata still requested permission to conduct mop-up operations to acquire alien artefacts and bodies for research, and el-Sisi complied on the proviso that Egypt be placed on the priority list for satellite coverage.

X-Com operatives boarding the SR-1 Skyranger, the longest ranged air assault VTOL aircraft in the world.

The strike force was once again led by "Okami" Takeda, and he was accompanied by Japanese soldiers "Tenshi" Hatakeyama and "Oni" Okamoto, Russian "Jeromai" Kurnakov, Australian "Coreus" Shearer and three of the Sand Sisters - "Alysianah" Jawahir, "Saylah" Talabi and "Paeroka" Farid. Okami found himself leading a squad of five women and two men, a situation wholly unfamiliar to the young master sergeant. The JSDF did not allow women in combat roles, and even the presence of the Japanese female soldiers - Oni and Tenshi - was only possible because X-Com was a UN task force. Oni was originally a truck driver (euphemistically called "motor transport operator" in armed forces parlance) in a tank battalion, while Tenshi was a logistics officer. What both had in common was that they had heard about Bradford's open selections, decided to try out, and passed.

The team arrived in Asyat on 7 March 2016 to find the city in uproar, with jubilant crowds chanting in the streets. Egyptian security forces had driven the aliens to a perimeter around an ancient Egyptian necropolis but had halted under orders from President el-Sisi. Much to the disgust of locals X-Com were given authority to take over operations, and Okami immediately led the squad into the maze of tombs before the overzealous Egyptians changed their mind. Oni advocated an attempt at communicating with the aliens, and was given permission - advancing cautiously from tomb to tomb, keenly aware of how Milady had been fired upon in Osaka during the first contact event, Oni addressed the sectoids and waved a white flag from behind the safety of a large tomb. A hail of plasma fire was her response, much to the amusement of the team's sniper Jeromai. The 43 year old Russian was a veteran of the First and Second Chechen wars and a current FSB (Federal Security Service) field officer tasked with monitoring the movements of the nascent X-Com organization. Until recently he had believed the X-Com initiative to be an international farce, but seeing the aliens first-hand made him revise his opinion in a hurry. Once engaged Jeromai wasted no time in demonstrating his deadly prowess with his firearm. His very first shot killed a sectoid outright, and he dropped another shortly afterwards.

The ensuing firefight saw the X-Com squad dispatch the aliens quickly and efficiently. The sectoids were pathetic soldiers, firing blindly at times and grouping together to make inviting targets for grenades. The Sand Sisters once again continued to impress, advancing and covering for each other while remaining cool under fire. Alysianah showed great poise, working her way through the tombstones into a position where she could hurl her AP grenades at the sectoids firing from heavy cover. Okami on the extreme left flank dropped one sectoid after another with measured fire from his DMR (designated marksman's rifle) while in the middle snipers Jeromai and Tenshi kept up a fusillade of fire which kept the visitors' heads down. The visitors were soon overwhelmed. As per Osaka, X-Com forensic teams immediately began bagging the cadavers and collecting whatever fragments they could find.

"Okami" Takeda at the conclusion of the firefight which took the life of Australian SAS soldier Dylan "Coreus" Shearer.

The team suffered one casualty, however. Australian "Coreus" Shearer was hit by sectoid fire early in the battle and panicked. While cowering behind some light cover another sectoid fired at him, and despite being hunkered down behind a tombstone the plasma bolt penetrated the obstruction and instantly killed him. Shearer was the first casualty of the X-Com project.

Battle of Japan

Shearer's next of kin were dutifully notified, and his body sent back  to his family in Melbourne, Australia. His death was a sobering reminder to the rest of the squad of the stakes involved. Up to this point X-Com had had an air of unreality surrounding it. Having seen the aliens firsthand, however, and losing one of their own solidified the idea that X-Com was a legitimate task force with a real purpose and a real enemy.  Global UFO activity was reaching unprecedented levels, especially over the nations of Australia, Egypt and France, and these countries made repeated requests to be given satellite coverage. Security forces in all over the world were learning that the sectoids were weak and vulnerable to terrestrial weapons, however, and the general public's apprehension was giving way to belligerency. There was fierce debate on many forums as to the best way to deal with the visitors, and the scenes of alien bodies being dragged through the streets affected people in different ways. Some were jubilant; some were upset at the "inhumane" treatment of sentient beings; others feared reprisal. "If they're anything like us," said Tenshi. "They're going to want revenge."

The first UFO ever tracked by X-Com's satellite XS-1. This contact destroyed a squadron of JASDF fighters sent to intercept it.

On 8 March 2016, barely 24 hours after the deployment in Egypt, satellite XS-1 picked up a large contact moving through Japanese air space. Designated as UFO-2, it was the largest contact ever tracked, and several Japanese Air Self Defence Forces (JASDF) F-15s were scrambled in pursuit. General Iwata and Colonel Bradford watched grimly from Central as jet after jet was shot down by the contact. The mood in Central darkened as JASDF Patriot batteries launched their surface to air missiles (SAM) ineffectively at the UFO. The aliens appeared to have the ability to manipulate their radar signature - radar waves propagated at UFOs were either absorbed or came back subtly modified which wrought havoc on missile guidance systems. This led to the even deeper mystery as to how ground based or satellite based radar could pick up UFOs at all. "If their ships are capable of absorbing radar waves and not registering on our arrays," queried Dr. Shen. "Why don't they just stay in stealth all the time?" Hypotheses ranged from power requirements which limited the use of such countermeasures to small bursts, to more malevolent theories from the troops themselves. "They're toying with us," squad leader "Tengu" Hara said grimly. "Like a cat playing with a mouse. They don't see us as dangerous, so they are just playing with us for their own amusement."

With the failure of Japan's air force General Iwata was forced to decide whether to scramble the specialised F-35s at X-Com's disposal. He decided against it, judging the risk to the craft and pilot to be too great. To their astonishment the UFO descended to a location west of Osaka, Japan - the exact same place where X-Com had made first contact only one week prior. Iwata ordered the Skyranger scrambled immediately, and a squad led by Tengu was ordered to try and assault the UFO on the ground. The UFO did not stay long enough for this to happen - it took off again prior to the arrival of the Skyranger. As with last week, however, reports on the ground indicated that the aliens were out in force on the ground, apparently searching for something.

Return to Osaka

Tengu's eight man squad contained five soldiers who were present at first contact ("Tengu" Hara, "Bhagpuss" Taylor, "Syp" Muyumba, "Milady" Edwards and "Izlain" Favre). Chinese soldiers "Xanziee" Tsang and "Dacheng" Nguyen also made their debuts following fierce lobbying from the Chinese government. The final member of the squad was Dutchman "Redbeard" von Heuvel. Tengu found himself commanding a squad of non-Japanese soldiers, two of which (the Chinese) were quite openly and serenely unimpressed by his status as squad leader. Fortunately for Tengu his original squad mates were beginning to bond and acknowledge his status. Izlain in particular served the role of a non-com well because of his fluency in Japanese. Having been stationed in Okinawa for several years, he was able to smooth out difficulties in translation, and enforced Tengu's orders in the field in classic drill sergeant style.

Bhagpuss and Syp were still wary because of the strange visions which afflicted them in their first mission, but the remainder were quietly confident of their ability to handle the aliens on the ground. The aliens sequestered themselves in a large office supply warehouse and Tengu wasted no time assaulting the building. Unlike Okami, Tengu felt that negotiations were a waste of time. "If they wanted to talk to us they have the means to easily do so," Tengu stated. "Which means they don't." The X-Com team was able to overwhelm the aliens with textbook infantry tactics - Tengu, Milady, Syp and Bhagpuss established a base of fire to pin down the sectoids while Izlain and Redbeard enveloped around the left flank. Dacheng and Xanziee did the same on the right flank, and caught in a murderous crossfire the sectoids were routed and killed. The mystery of why they had come to this location again remained unsolved, however. All X-Com were able to find huddling in the store room of the building were seven civilians - four terrified office workers, the building's custodian, and a mother and her daughter who fled to the building when the aliens arrived.

Dutchman "Redbeard" von Heuvel deploys into combat for the first time.

Despite a thorough search of the area X-Com researchers were unable to determine what brought the aliens to this part of Japan for the second time. While speaking to the civilians, however, Tengu was interested to learn that the mother and child had also been at the sight of the first contact. Chiharu Kimura and her daughter Nanami cowered in their vehicle when sectoids landed near the Chugoku Highway a week ago. The sectoids were moving methodically down the highway searching the vehicles, and the Kimuras were only saved by the intervention of X-Com operators. Tengu thought it a great coincidence and thought nothing of it. He would not realise until much later that he had found what the aliens were looking for.

Next: The Long War, Part VI - France

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