The Long War, Part VII - Global Unrest

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X-Com had no way of ascertaining the size and scope of the alien threat. Telescopic observation seemed to point to Mars as the aliens' base of operations - astronomers tracked the aliens coming and going from Mars with their instruments, but thus far could not determine the aliens' precise strength and numbers. The aliens kept the bulk of their fleet hidden behind the far side of Mars, but what was most troubling were photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope which suggested more and more alien craft were arriving from deep space. While public concern had abated somewhat by the aliens' pathetic showing on the ground to date, military commands all over the world knew that the aliens had not yet shown their full strength. They were extremely concerned at the prospect of the aliens deploying nuclear weapons or their advanced equivalent. If the aliens wanted to nuke the Earth from orbit, there was nothing anyone could do about it. The fact that they had not suggested that they were after something else.

These mechanical pods were launched from the UFOs and immediately released a gas that could solidify into a sticky, web-like substance which immobilised luckless humans in the vicinity.

Occupation and conquest were mooted as possible reasons, but the conduct of the aliens did not appear to corroborate this hypothesis. An equivalent terrestrial campaign would entail fighters establishing air superiority, followed by a bombing campaign which would take out radar installations, air fields and supporting infrastructure. Armour and infantry would then move in to capture strategic positions and destroy enemy resistance with air support. The aliens did none of these things. They clearly had air superiority, but left ground radar installations and air fields - both high value strategic targets in conventional warfare - unmolested. Their ground incursions were pathetically inept, and the sectoid themselves were no match for well-trained human infantry. The one thing that humans knew for certain was that the enemy abducted people wherever they landed. The aliens went about this in two ways. The first involved landing squads of aliens who acted as grab teams. In this situation the aliens only made off with a few individuals before departing. The other way entailed launching mechanical pods from the UFO which emitted some kind of green substance that incapacitated and immobilised humans nearby. The captives would then picked up by a complement of drones who carried the immobilised humans back to their craft. There were also unconfirmed reports of humans willingly boarding alien craft of their own accord, but this was dismissed as preposterous.

While the aliens evaded or punished any attempts at air interception they seemed to let their ground troops fend for themselves. They never lent air support to their ground missions, and if a ground team was wiped out the UFO simply didn't return. Sectoids never seemed to exhibit distress when one of their number went down, and they were mostly silent on the battlefield. Their mode of communication remained a mystery. In all the time the aliens had been present not once had they attempted to establish communications or respond to human overtures. This fact alone confirmed for most that their intentions were malevolent.

Civilians trying desperately to escape the tendrils of the alien abduction pods.

In response to the abductions civilians armed themselves and barricaded their homes, and neighbourhood watches were established which disseminated UFO sightings much like tornado warnings in the American Midwest. Security forces in every nation created rapid response groups similar to X-Com which could then be deployed to anywhere in the country at short notice. Having taken tremendous losses, air forces all over the world ceased trying to shoot down the UFOs. Only the modified F-35s fielded by the US and X-Com seemed to have a chance at shooting down the enemy craft, and even then a squadron of US F-35s was badly mauled when trying to engage a large UFO off the east coast of America. Now standard procedure was to shadow the UFOs while air assault troops waited on stand-by. Once the landing site was determined the air assault forces would deploy to engage the sectoids on the ground. This measure was hugely successful in the months of March and April 2016, and the number of abductions dropped dramatically.

Second Kill

On 23 March 2016 satellite XCS-1 detected two UFOs in the vicinity of Osaka, Japan. This would take the total number of UFOs sighted in this area to five. Prior to the Osaka incident researchers had assumed that the aliens were content to take whatever humans they could find, but the single-minded focus on Osaka seemed to indicate otherwise. The aliens were clearly looking for something. Once again General Iwata ordered the F-35s scrambled, and soon "Monk" Kanamin and "Grounder" Tanner were streaking through the air in pursuit of UFO-4, while "Zeke" Gibson and "Q-Tip" Murphy chased after UFO-5. UFO-4 was another scout class UFO, but it put up more of a fight than its previous compatriot. Both F-35s did not fire their missiles, but instead throttled in to engage at gun range. When they closed in the UFO began to jink and juke in an unpredictable manner while returning fire with plasma bolts discharged from its hull. Monk was able to land several hits with his 20mm cannon, but was also hit in return. He was forced to disengage and return to base. Grounder pressed the attack, raking the UFO with cannon fire as it pursued the fleeing Monk. Much to his delight the UFO began to spiral downwards, and once again Central was filled with overjoyed men and women as it crashed into the ground north of Osaka.

UFO-5 appeared similar to the scout UFO seen on previous occasions by X-Com, but was faster and had significantly better ACM capabilities. 

The mood in Central soon sobered, however, when UFO-5 proved to be a much more formidable adversary. Zeke and Q-Tip could not get a bead on the UFO, and it in turn displayed excellent ACM (air combat manoeuvring) skills, placing itself behind both pilots on separate occasions. Its plasma guns pounded the F-35s, and both pilots had to withdraw with their craft heavily damaged. UFO-5 then headed west at high speed before finally launching itself into orbit.

Leadership Clashes

UFO-5 had escaped, but UFO-4 was down on Japanese soil, making it the second UFO shot down by X-Com. The recovery mission would be led again by the dour "Akuma" Ishikawa. Akuma's authoritarian style was perfectly suited to the Japanese chain of command, whose society inculcated respect for authority figures from a young age, and whose relationships are characterised by sempai (senior) and kohai (junior) dialectics. In the context of the strike force it was extremely jarring, however. Most elite units in the world displayed the same characteristics of egalitarian bottom-up planning as seen in the American Delta Force and the British and Australian SAS. The rationale behind this was that as the armed force's elite they could be trusted with the responsibility of planning the minutiae of each mission. Objectives would be given to them from their superiors, and the operators themselves would then work out the details of the mission. They eschewed uniforms, standards of appearance, and traditional trapping of rank in return for maintaining elite standards of soldiering and the willingness to put themselves in harm's way at a moment's notice.

This was the kind of environment Colonel Bradford wanted to foster in his international strike force, and Akuma's traditional style of command definitely clashed with this philosophy. Nonetheless Bradford still had political considerations to juggle, and for now the directive from General Iwata and Prime Minister Abe of Japan was that squads must be led by Japanese soldiers. He still had two widely respected squad leaders in "Okami" Takeda and "Tengu" Hara. Okami was very cautious and conservative, more so now after the deaths of the two soldiers under his command, but he commanded almost unanimous respect through his excellent marksmanship, which was the best in the unit. Only "Gevlon" Kruger despised him, and his reasons were linked to the death of "Ophelie" Scholtz, which he blamed squarely on Okami. Tengu was loud and aggressive in both conduct and demeanour, but also possessed a sense of humour and a willingness to embrace the vagaries of his position. Rather than shrinking from the titters and grins brought about by his poor English he embraced it, becoming more bombastic and taking every opportunity to add newly acquired pieces of vocabulary to his tirades. His squad's planning sessions were open to input and alteration. This was in sharp contrast to Akuma, who came to meetings thoroughly prepared but was unwilling to bend on any detail. 

X-Com completes their second salvage and recovery mission after shooting down a second UFO.

Nonetheless Akuma was the only man who had commanded a UFO assault to date, which made him the sole expert on the strike force. Bradford tasked him with securing the UFO, and an assault force was hastily thrown together.  The team was composed of Akuma, Russians "Jeromai" Kurnakov and "Pike" Yakovleva, Australian "Missy Mojo" Fitzgerald and Dutch "Redbeard" von Heuvel. The squad was rounded out by three members of the Indian contingent - "Noisy" Tendulkar, "Kurn" Jaiteley and "Jaedia" Dagur. Noisy, as attested by his call sign, was loud, obnoxious and opinionated - he was also courageous, intelligent and fiercely loyal, especially to his countrymen and women, whom he considered to have been slighted by the fact that the Pakistanis were allowed to deploy before the Indians were. He saw this mission as a chance to demonstrate the prowess of the Indian troops, most of whom were members of Indian Air Force's newest special unit, the Garud Commando Force.

The Skyranger dropped the team close to the crash site, but immediately came under fire from sectoids entrenched behind heavy cover. Pike was badly wounded by plasma fire, and Redbeard was also hit while trying to advance under heavy fire. Redbeard's collapse almost triggered a rout -  Kurn,  Jaedia and Missy Mojo all panicked and began falling back. Akuma, Jeromai and Noisy all kept their heads, however, and staved off a possible collapse by maintaining suppressing fire on the advancing sectoids. Akuma's accuracy with his marksman's rifle took a deadly toll, and Noisy's cover fire allowed Kurn to run to the fallen Redbeard and administer first aid. The remainder of the squad rallied, returned fire, and killed the remaining sectoids. With the surrounding area clear X-Com then assaulted the UFO itself. This was Akuma's second UFO assault, and he implemented tactics gleaned from the lessons learnt in the first encounter. He surrounded the UFO and posted operators on every exit point before breaching the craft. Akuma knew that a single operator did not have the stopping power to put down an outsider, and therefore he posted them in pairs at the exits. Once preparations were completed, Akuma gave the order to breach the craft. As expected the outsider ignored suppression fire and immediately made a beeline for the nearest exit. This time, however, it ran into the combined fire of  the Russians Jeromai and Noisy, who riddled the outsider with gunfire and put it down. X-Com had secured another UFO wreck.

Next: The Long War, Part VIII - The Phony War