Monday, October 12, 2015

The Long War, Part VI - France

Previous: The Long War, Part V - Opening Moves

Victory in the Air

On 10 March 2016 satellite XCS-1 picked up another UFO travelling at low speed over Osaka. This was the third UFO sighted in the same location in the space of two weeks. This particular UFO was the more common scout ship variant sighted frequently all around the world, and after intense discussions with the heads of the JASDF General Iwata decided to risk an air interception. Flight Officer "Q-Tip" Murphy and Flight Officer "Monk" Kanamin were scrambled to engage the enemy craft. Both were piloting extensively modified F-35s representing the cutting edge of aeronautical design, and they were soon in range of the enemy bogey. After several fruitless attempts to contact the UFO Monk was given permission to fire, and he launched two missiles, both of which merely ignored the target and crashed into the ground. Undeterred, he piloted his fighter closer to the slow moving UFO and fired at it with his 20mm Vulcan cannon. The UFO was apparently taken by surprise, and it took off in a fast but erratic course north across the Japanese countryside. Monk had apparently scored a critical hit, because the UFO eventually descended to the ground in the fields north of Kyoto and came to a halt.

Central erupts as X-Com F-35s score a kill for the very first time.

UFO Recovery

Jubilation erupted in Central as the first air victory over the aliens was celebrated by X-Com personnel. A recon flight over the crashed UFO indicated that it was still largely intact, and Bradford wasted no time in organising a recovery squad. With both "Okami" Takeda and "Tengu" Hara resting from their exertions in Egypt and Osaka respectively, it fell to "Akuma" Ishikawa to lead the team departing for Kyoto. The dour Ishikawa was not well-liked, and his squad was composed of neophytes going into combat with the aliens for the very first time. Akuma projected the aura of man who cared nothing for what other people thought of him. He was focused, impersonal and expected everyone to be the same. His assault team was composed of two Israelis ("Mesmer" Levin and "Kitty" Biton), two Pakistanis ("Arcturus" Lakhan and "Liore" Rataul), two French ("Syl" Roche and "Scree" Rousseau) and one Australian ("Jewel" Taylor).

The UFO crash-landed in a deserted field north-west of Kyoto, and the Skyranger touched down a short distance away. This was the team's first UFO assault, and Akuma ensured that the area around the UFO was first cleared of aliens before attempting to breach the vessel. This mission also marked the appearance of floating mechanical drones which flew through the air without any apparent means of support, apparently propelled by the same mechanism which drove the UFOs. The drones appeared harmless, until one of them shot Jewel with a bolt of energy which nearly killed her. After that incident the squad took no further chances, and shot down every drone they saw. Syl proved adept at shooting down the flying targets, accounting for two of them. The rest of the squad fared less poorly - the drones were small and fast, and it required a steady hand and a keen eye to maintain a bead on them. The most notable event of the UFO assault was an encounter with an hitherto un-encountered alien which the troops dubbed as the outsider. The troops struggled to describe this fast, dangerous and resilient foe. Even footage from personal cameras mounted on the soldier's helmets revealed scant details - an alien being, humanoid in appearance, clad in some kind of metallic-looking armour but radiating light and energy from within. Upon death, the light disappeared, and the armour collapsed in a heap of parts. Careful inspection of the parts revealed nothing beneath them - no corpse or body or any form of remains. Gunfire was partially effective in ripping apart the armour which gave this alien its shape and cohesion, but it appeared that the outsider regenerated damage rapidly. Only sustained damage over a short period of time sufficed to disrupt whatever being animated that suit of armour - if left to its own devices the armour would visibly regenerate and repair damage done to it.


The Outsiders appeared to be the pilots of the alien craft, but were also formidable combatants, possessing deadly aim and the ability to regenerate damage to their exo-suits. They appeared to be animated suits of alien armour - once the armour took sufficient damage it collapsed in a heap, leaving no body behind.

"Kitty, Liore and I stormed into the UFO and saw this thing," Arcturus later stated. "We riddled it with bullets - there was no blood, but we could see our bullets leaving holes in its armour. The thing sprinted out of the UFO and ran into the woods. It was fast, faster than a human, and it didn't seem to be scared of being shot. Kitty ran after it to finish it off while Liore and I made sure the UFO was clear. The next thing we hear is Kitty calling for back-up, and so we run outside. We saw the outsider, and our bullet holes were gone. It was suppressing Kitty and just walking up to her, as easy you like, no fear, while shooting at her. We blasted the thing to pieces with our guns, tearing off bits of its armour and puncturing it full of holes. At some point our damage must have overloaded its ability to regenerate, because suddenly the light died out and the armour collapsed into a heap."

One final incident of note involved Israeli soldier "Mesmer" Levin. She reported experiencing something similar to what "Bhagpuss" Taylor and "Syp" Muyumba experienced in Osaka. "I'm afraid of spiders," the red-headed Israeli soldier admitted. "And at one point in the fight I saw a  large spider, bigger than my hand, on the log I was taking cover behind. I stopped shooting and scrambled away, but moments later when I looked back, the thing was gone. At first I thought it had just scuttled away, but I saw the same damned spider later when we were closer to the UFO. I thought, this thing can't be real, and closed my eyes - when I opened them again the spider was gone."


"Akuma" Ishikawa's sketches of the Outsiders.

The downed UFO was a gold mine for the research team, and great efforts were expended in recovering and returning the alien craft safely to Tanegashima.  This windfall was soon to be followed by grim news on the world stage, however. France had been flip flopping in its support of the X-Com project, at first blocking it in the Security Council before voting for it in the General Assembly. On 11 March 2016, however, France withdrew its support of the X-Com project, ceased all funding, and formally requested for the return of their personnel and equipment.

Unrest in France

The withdrawal of France drew tremendous criticism from both home and abroad. Media outlets were outspokenly contemptuous of President François Hollande, who was already suffering from low approval ratings. He had been given the nickname "Monsieur Flanby" when he assumed power in 2012, and France's recent antics baffled and outraged members of his party. Media representatives found their access to Élysée Palace severely restricted however, and the President and the Prime Minister became very reclusive and insular, refusing to appear in front of the media and communicating only through statements issued through intermediaries. The President's withdrawal from public life became so acute that France's populist newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur published a giant headline which read, "Where In France is Monsieur Flanby?"

French members of the X-Com unit were ordered to return to France immediately after the French withdrawal. The French contingent consisted of two companies made up of approximately 400 soldiers and support personnel, and they were shipped back to France in three flights on the 16th, the 18th and the 20th of March. Syl and Scree were the only members of the French contingent to pass selections into the strike force, and they were supposed to take the final flight on the 20th. Prior to their departure Syl tried to get in contact with the members of her contingent who had departed earlier, but was unable to raise any of them. Mystified by this development she contacted the NATO Bretigny-sur-Orge Air Base in France to confirm their arrival, and was told that the flights had been rerouted to Grenoble. Her attempts to contact Grenoble Air Base were in vain, and further attempts to obtain contact details were met with confusion, silence and outright hostility.

Alarmed Syl shared her concerns with Scree and her commanding officer Major Jacques Davout, and he wasted no time in contacting his superiors in France. Upon concluding his phone call he told Syl that they had been ordered to return to France immediately. "The directive comes all the way from the President," Davout told them. "They'll explain when we get there. Some kind of big operation against the aliens." This did not assuage Syl. A single child from a single parent she contacted her mother, and quizzed her on the conditions at home. Her mother told her that all was well, although "conspiracy theories" abounded. Stories of giant alien space craft touching down in the countryside and squads of tall, gaunt thin men guarding the Élysée Palace made the rounds on tabloids and across pub tables. "It's all rubbish," her mother assured her. "People are just nervous, that's all."

France withdraws from the X-Com project.

The UK

In the meantime, X-Com forces were deployed to halt abduction attempts by the visitors in the UK. SCO19 (England's equivalent to SWAT) and British SAS commandos responded to six reports during the month of March, and on 20 March 2016 made a formal request for X-Com intervention. Like in Egypt, human armed forces were more than a match for the aliens on the ground, and X-Com's intervention was more a courtesy and compliance with the UN resolution than any real need. For this mission Bradford decided to deploy "Okami" Takeda with a team largely composed of British ("Bhagpuss" Taylor and "Milady" Edwards) and European personnel ("Scree" Rousseau, "Tobold" Moreau, "Gevlon" Kovács, "Syl" Roche and "Ophelie" Scholtz). This would be the last mission that Syl and Scree would perform for X-Com before heading back to France.

The Skyranger touched down in Coventry near a petrol station occupied by sectoids, and "Okami" Takeda moved his squad in to secure the petrol station. Okami divided his team into two groups - the first group, led by himself, would clear the trucks and vehicles in the parking lot, while the second would assault the station. A vicious firefight ensued in the station which claimed the life of "Ophelie" Scholz. Dashing across a garage she was gunned down by a sectoid lurking in overwatch. Gevlon also had an episode similar to that experienced by Bhagpuss, Syp and Mesmer in previous missions - he did not elaborate in debriefing, but recalled that he felt a very deep compulsion to run and hide suddenly take hold of him. Instead of running he charged the sectoids, and became engaged in vicious short range exchange over a car. The sectoids died, and the station was clear.

On route back to Tanegashima the Skyranger stopped in Germany to deliver the body of Ophelie back to German authorities. She was the second casualty under Okami's command, and he took her death hard. From hereonin Okami's deployments would be characterised by extreme caution and an unwillingness to take risks. Gevlon, furious at the death of his comrade-in-arms, blamed Okami for her death, and lobbied for non-Japanese squad leaders in the future. Okami, for his part, was quiet and circumspect. "I should not have divided my squad," he stated later. "If we were all together perhaps she would not have felt compelled to take such risks." Bhagpuss defended his squad leader, stating that "Scholz advanced under her own initiative. We could have waited for the rest of the squad, but she wanted to push forward and unfortunately paid the price."

The Skyranger made one more stop before returning to Tanegashima. On its return flight the aircraft made a clandestine stop in the Ardennes with the quiet approval of the Belgian government, and both Syl and Scree were inserted just a few clicks from the French border. As soldiers they were obligated to return to France as per their superiors' orders, but rather than return with the rest of the French contingent they would take a different route home. Their commanding officer, Jacques Davout, would cover for the two of them, and ensure that for all intents and purposes they would be listed as "returned" for bureaucratic purposes. Between them, Davout and Colonel Bradford, they concocted a scheme by which X-Com could gather information without going through official channels. The pair was given a powerful radio transmitter which could transmit signals to a bay tower in Germany. The signal would then be relayed to Central via fibre optic cables which stretched across the European and Asian continent. While the rest of their countrymen were boarding transport planes from Tanegashima, they were determined to walk across the border, make their way to the air base at Grenoble, and ascertain what exactly was going on.

3 comments:

  1. Disclaimer : I'm French

    "President Francoise Hollande"
    It's François (without a e). But you can let as it is, I find it very funny, since Françoise is a female first name and our president is particularly impotent.

    But I'm a little disappointed you chose le nouvel Observateur as a French newspaper, since it's a little rubbish (just like most of the media here).

    Anyway I think the work you are doing is impressive, kudos to you!

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    1. I'll fix the typo, thanks for pointing it out.

      I have to confess that I am entirely ignorant of France and French culture. I studied French in high school, but that's it - I've never been there, and all I know of France is through books, films and the Internet. It might be a problem, because France is going to feature prominently in the Portent arc I'm working on at the moment - all I can do is research thoroughly, and try to render France in my fiction as convincingly as I can. Apologies in advance if I offend anyone - this is fiction though, so hopefully most people can take it with a grain of salt.

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  2. It's fine, you are already doing a great research job !

    And I think "books, films and the Internet" are enough to get a good idea of a country. Do not hesitate to some use clichés, there are mostly true : for example, strikes in public transportation (we had one last week), regular protests against the government (we've got a lot of examples recently with the new labour law), few French having any level in English and French people being rude (mostly in city with lots of tourists, such as Paris).

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