Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Long War, Part IX - Ogbomosho

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

Ogbomosho was on fire.

Home to over a million souls, the city was a funeral pyre. If it had been day a thick pall of smoke would have been visible - in the dark African night the only way to tell was when the smoke briefly obscured parts of the burning city. Sparks rose like fireflies into the darkness, wafting upwards to where solitary helicopters thumped noisily overhead. The city was screaming, a keen, wailing sound that pierced the darkness - a cacophony of human anguish, pain and misery interspersed with something otherworldly.

From the darkness a trio of black shapes congealed and materialised out of the night sky. A trio of Skyranger craft came screaming out of the east, foregoing any attempts at concealment - their mission required speed, not subterfuge. Two of the Skyrangers banked away and bled off speed, corkscrewing down to the city in elegant circles and descending towards a part of the city yet untouched by fire. Vertical jets spurted into flame, and the two birds held position vertically over the city as the ramps in the back opened and disgorged long black ropes to the city below. Heavily armed men and women - 16 in all - roped down to the streets below. They landed with practiced ease on the dusty streets, now choked with debris and soot, and spread out quickly to form a circular perimeter. The ropes were winched up, and the Skyrangers pulled out. The soldiers lay unmoving in their positions, letting their eyes and ears adjust to the new environment around them.


After several minutes one of the figures stirred. Okami swept through his perimeter, verifying with each operator that they were alone. Once satisfied, he said quietly, "Central, we're on the ground. Moving to the compound."

"Roger, Okami." Central's reply crackled with static from over 13,000 km away. "Watch your butts out there."

"Tora, ike zo," Okami whispered to his second in command.

"Ryo-kai." Tora motioned to his lead scout, Rohan, to take point, and the big Spaniard curtly nodded. He tapped his countryman Murf on the shoulder as he passed, and he rose and followed on Rohan's heels. The rest of Tora's squad moved out swiftly but silently, their plan of action hurriedly improvised over outdated maps during the preceding flight from Japan. GPS and Google maps disappeared when Earth's satellite network went down, but the caches, now four months old, could still be used to provide fairly accurate street level information. The team was tasked with extracting UN Major-General Doorn and his men from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology to their immediate east. The group would split into two - Okami's squad would approach from the northwest, while Tora's would come in from the southwest. Once the compound was secure, the team would call in the Skyrangers holding station in the skies above and extract all survivors to Ilorin Airport 43 km to the northeast. Originally called in as technical advisors, the mission had changed mid-flight when the UN peacekeepers arriving in the city found the Nigerian army being overrun. Intelligence on the ground was shaky - confused reports of overwhelming numbers of giant insects were met with derision and scepticism. Nonetheless the UN soldiers appeared in deadly earnest, and their last report stated that they were making a stand at the university.

"It's the sectoids," Syp had said in the chaotic briefing back in Tanegashima. "They're creating illusions and putting them in the minds of the soldiers."

Most concurred. An overhead shot taken by a news helicopter earlier in the day showed a medium sized UFO surrounded by Nigerian forces. It was bigger than the scout class vessels usually encountered by X-Com fighters but surely not big enough to contain the number of aliens purportedly overrunning the city. The Nigerian report cited hundreds of aliens. The final seconds of the footage showed a Nigerian platoon about to breach the UFO, backed up by a cordon of police, soldiers and a massive throng of interested onlookers. Two Soviet T-72 tanks were part of the perimeter. An alien break out seemed impossible.

On the deserted streets of Ogbomosho X-Com's preliminary assessment felt less certain than it did 8 hours ago. The fires raging unchecked in parts of the city indicated the collapse of the city's emergency services. Even more unsettling was the occasional rattle of gunfire, the screams in the night, and the absence of civilians on the streets. Okami watched as the last of Tora's squad disappeared behind a make-shift shanty before turning his attention to his own squad. He had tried his best to memorize the route his team was to take, but down at ground level the neat cartography in his mind refused to meld with the confusing mosaic of dirt roads and corrugated iron buildings in the flickering half light. He hoped that his lead scout would not be disorientated as he was, and he mentioned for Jeromai to come up. If the Russian veteran was, he betrayed no sign of it. He passed Okami without a word, and the rest of the squad followed his lead into the night.

The two squads advanced on the university like two prongs of a pincer, each picking their way through the streets as quickly and quietly as they could. On the southern wing the route chosen by Rohan was simple. The squad cut southeast until they hit Ogbomosho Road, and then they followed the road northeast. The road was a main traffic artery bisecting the town, and the university was situated right on it. Tonight it was crammed full of abandoned vehicles of every make, a testament to the panicked attempts at flight by the inhabitants. Some of the cars were burnt out wrecks, consumed in conflagrations hours earlier. Most were simply abandoned, and in some cases, still occupied by the dead. The blackened holes in the corpses told the tale of how they died. Plasma fire sliced through almost anything, leaving perfectly cauterized holes the size of a man's fist wherever they passed. Something about the angle of the holes discomfited Rohan, and it took a moment for the thought to clarify.

"These people were shot from above."

Murf understood immediately, and swept the surroundings for high vantage points from which the fire could have originated. There were none. "Drones? Maybe they outfitted them with plasma weapons." 

"Perhaps." Rohan sounded doubtful. They continued their advance along the road, alternately moving then covering for each other. The Spaniards were even more cautious now, heads on a swivel, scanning both the vertical and horizontal planes for threats. Moving alongside an abandoned vehicle Murf saw a circular pool of red on the side of the road. He assumed that it was the remains of someone who had bled out, and steeled himself as he approached. What he saw puzzled him. The blood had soaked into the dirt, leaving a dry crimson patch in the soil. There was no body within - only the shredded remnants of what appeared to be a floral Hawaiian shirt, jeans, and shoes.

"Jewel, I need you up here."

The Australian medic was up in less than a minute.

"What do you make of that?"

Jewel dropped to one knee and surveyed the scene. Upon closer inspection she made a grim discovery - along with the ripped clothing and torn shoes she found human hair, teeth, parts of the skin and fingernails. Here and there, small scraps of human flesh and skin.

"Where's the rest of him? Organs, heart, brain?" Murf asked.

Jewel shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe something ate him?"

Greatly discomfited, the squad continued moving. Occasionally they would come across more torn fragments of clothes, shredded shoes, jewelry and watches. Murf and Rohan were baffled. There was blood at each scene, but no body, nothing to indicate the fate of the victims.

"It's like they were torn apart from the inside." Jewel said in disbelief.

Half a kilometre from the university they came across the remains of a massive firefight. The cars were pockmarked with bullet holes, and several were blackened wrecks. Shattered glass lay everywhere. The place was streaked with dried blood. It stained the ground and was smeared and spattered over vehicles, barricades and walls. There were bodies here, but not the kind the squad were expecting.

"What the fuck is that?" Izlain breathed.

It looked like a gigantic purple praying mantis, as big as a horse, six limbed as far as he could tell, covered with vicious barbs and protrusions. It looked dead, but Izlain was not about to take any chances, staying a healthy distance away and keeping his weapon trained at it at all times. Eldaeriel, the team's scientific liason, showed no fear and sat beside the corpse. She put her weapon down, and strapped on a pair of surgical gloves.

"Careful!" Izlain hissed.

The Argentinian nodded, but nonetheless began to push and prod the corpse, articulating its limbs, and examining the creature's anatomy. Gunfire had shredded it, shearing away limbs and destroying what appeared to be its head. Seeing a wound in the creature's abdomen she noted several round spherical jelly like balls oozing from the opening. Some had burst open from the bullet's impact, but quite a few remained intact. They were the size of tennis balls, and in the middle of the clear membrane surrounding the spheres something black and many limbed twitched and stirred.

"Eggs?" Cider asked in disgust.

"Looks like it." Eldaeriel grimaced. She picked up an egg in a gloved hand. The embryo in the centre writhed towards her palm, and she dropped it with revulsion.

"There's another one over here," said Rohan quietly. The Spaniard motioned to a similar corpse on the other side of the street. "And over there - and there." He walked over to the cadaver and prodded it with his rifle. "Shot with 5.56 mm rounds, probably with a Belgian FN. Nigerian army weapons."

Murf nodded. "I think they came up along this street from this direction, and the army made a stand over there." He pointed to a make-shift barricade straddling the width of the road to the northeast. The barricade was in tatters, and abandoned. The remains of a technical - a small jeep with a machine gun mounted in the back - lay overturned nearby.

"Lots of shell casings - bullet holes - look, I've got a UN helmet here." Jewel held a blue helmet aloft. "But no bodies. Unless..." She looked at the ground near her and noted the torn blue scraps of khaki, the scraps of boot leather and red chunks of gore. She swallowed. "Unless that used to be him."

Eldaeriel finished her examination, casually rolled up the gloves and threw them away. "Should we bag one? Dr. Vahlen would love to get her hands on one of these."

"You want to haul one of those, be my guest. I'm not touching them." Izlain growled.

"What are they?" Cider asked, eyes wide in the crimson night. The Nigerian translator was born and raised in Abuja some 800 km to the northeast. She had spent some time here in her youth, and the enormity of the disaster which had befallen Ogbomosho was starting to become apparent. Her mind was forcefully rejecting it, however. Perhaps if she didn't believe it then it wouldn't be true, it whispered.

Rohan placed a reassuring hand on the Nigerian's shoulder. She slapped the hand away brusquely. The Spaniard cocked his eyebrow, but made no comment.

"Tora? What do you want to do?" Eldaeriel asked.

The small Japanese soldier also appeared to be having problems coping with what he was seeing. "Let's keep moving," he said finally.

"Dr. Vahlen would want a sample," Eldaeriel insisted.

"You heard the sarge," said Izlain. "Move out."

Eldaeriel ignored him. "Our brief is to research and investigate the visitors. We need to know more about this thing here."

"Lady, are you deaf? Can I remind you that our mission, right here, right now, is to rescue the Major-General?"

The operators were on the verge of a shouting match when they were interrupted by a transmission from Chestnut. The Mexican had taken point position while the squad inspected the site of the firefight.

"Chestnut here. I have a civilian approaching."

The squad burst into action, relieved at being in motion at last. Eldaerial and Izlain exchanged final glares before moving out in line. They found Chestnut standing atop the bed of utility vehicle, weapon resting on the cab and trained at a solitary figure shuffling along the road some 50 m away. "He hasn't seen me yet."

Cider was hustled to the front. The civilian was a middle aged man, wearing jeans and a white shirt. He walked in clumsy, faltering steps, and seemed lost and disorientated. Cider walked forward slowly, and hailed the civilian in English. When that failed to elicit a response, she tried Hausa then Yoruba. She was completely ignored.

"He's wounded." Eldaeriel observed. pointing to the streaks of blood pouring down his jeans. The remainder of the operators emerged from the shelter of the cars. Cider inched closer, with Izlain following close behind. She put her weapon down and waved her arms slowly to get the man's attention. This gesture seemed to work, as the man suddenly turned and looked at her, revealing a gaping, gory wound where his abdomen used to be.

"What the fuck...?" Izlain said. His startled exclamation was enough to get the man's attention, and he suddenly lurched forward in his direction. Izlain backed up instinctively. "Tell him to stay back!"

"Tsaya!" Cider shouted. "Ba ta motsa!" The man ignored her, seemingly fixated on Izlain. She tried again, in every Nigerian dialect she knew. The man kept stumbling forward.

"Stay the fuck back, I'm warning you! I will shoot!"

The man kept advancing. Izlain dropped his sights, and fired a bullet into the man's leg. He aimed at the outer thigh, erring on the side of caution - a bullet through the femoral artery would kill a person just as well as one to the head. His aim was good, and the bullet grazed the man's outer left quadricep. The man stumbled and fell, but made no sound as he crumpled to the ground.  Within seconds Murf and Rohan were on the man. The two Spaniards were big burly men, but their attempts to subdue the civilian met fierce, crazed resistance.

"I don't want to hurt you," Murf said in the man's ear as he struggled to keep him pinned. "We just want to ask you some questions." The man jerked his elbow backwards and caught Murf square in the face. White pain exploded in his eyes, and he felt a sticky metallic liquid drip from his shattered nose.

"You asked for this," Murf hissed angrily. He pulled the man's elbow back and up behind the man's back, applying pressure on the shoulder joint. The man continued to struggle and kick and writhe, and Murf kept cranking the hold in response, until an audible pop marked the dislocation of the man's shoulder. If it hurt the man he gave no sign - if anything it merely provoked him further. The man continued to buck and writhe like an enraged bull with a rider, and one particular convulsion sent Murf flying into the dirt.

Rohan cracked the man across the face. He grabbed a fistful of the man's shirt with his left and started raining blows down with his right. The man seemed impervious to pain. A sharp pain in Rohan's left hand made him stop. A bony protrusion had erupted from the man's body, and the jagged edge had made a savage cut across his knuckles. Near the knees and elbows the man's skin ripped and tore open, releasing fine welters of blood - hooked claws burst out and grew, scrabbling and searching for purchase on the ground. The man's body was changing in front of their eyes. Even the face was changing - the bones were shifting impossibly but perceptibly beneath the skin. Blood sprayed from the man's face as the eyeballs ruptured and burst, spraying into Rohan's eyes and mouth. Frantic thoughts of the ebola epidemic which swept through West Africa raced through his mind, and he flung himself off the man, spitting frantically. He rolled on his back, and saw the shattered remains of a man performing what looked like a wrestling bridge - arms and legs thrust backwards and pelvis arcing up into the air. From the ruins of the man's face glowered two alien eyes.


"Get out of the way!" Izlain shouted. "Get clear!"


Rohan rolled away, and several assault rifles barked in unison. The alien-human pupa collapsed in a heap, yellow ichor pouring from the holes in its side. Even as it died, it completed its transformation. Whatever parts of the human host not consumed or appropriated by the metamorphosis was being shed by the organism, falling in bloody heaps to the ground, sliding off the sleek carapace emerging from beneath. By the time the creature stopped twitching there was nothing human left about it - the chrysalis which had fuelled its transformation was nothing more than a pile of torn clothes and ripped skin on the dusty streets of Ogbomosho.

Next: The Long War, Part X - Terror in Nigeria

7 comments:

  1. Holy crap... This is a great read. If I hadn't already gone through XCOM and XCOM 2 a dozen times over myself, this would absolutely pull me in and get me to buy it.

    Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fucking great read. Pulled in instantly and dropped everything I was doing to just read this. You've also got an audience going on at https://www.reddit.com/r/Xcom/comments/49yjgo/what_it_would_look_like_if_the_events_in_xcom/

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fucking hell, this entire story is incredible, but I *love* the perspective switch here from the previous chapters. Reading what was basically a recounting of society's slow but steady descent into chaos before was creepy enough, but seeing the alien's capabilities from the perspective of the XCOM troops themselves is absolutely chilling. You just make everything feel so authentic.

    I adore what you're doing so far, and I cannot wait to see more. I don't know if you're planning on intertwining the DLCs' additions with the narrative in the future, but if so, I can't wait to see where you go with it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fantastic read that is very entertaining. Would recommend to anyone. I love how someone who has never heard of Xcom and knew nothing about it can very clearly understand the story. I look foreword to future chapters

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the kind feedback guys. I'm going to try to post at a rate of once a week, and try to incorporate some of the feedback here and on Reddit as well. I'll also keep mixing up the styles to try and keep things interesting. Will incorporate DLCs for sure, but thinking of changing Zhang into Chinese intelligence rather than a Triad guy. Not sure yet. The big roadblock story wise for me is always - why would a superpower like the US, Russia or China call in X-Com rather than handling it internally? Once X-Com starts rocking alien tech I can understand, but until that point X-Com is just a patchwork international force inferior to special force units of other countries. And it's always difficult to square away X-Com's status as an international force with a global mandate with its "covert" status.

    Not sure yet, just sitting on it. Having fun writing it, so I'm glad people are enjoying it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you ask me, I would say that for a while, the major superpowers are able to handle the alien threat for a while, but as the war escalates, the aliens get tired of their shit and start directly targeting their key military assets and infrastructure, crippling the superpowers' ability to respond effectively to their efforts.

      Could make for some interesting operations, too. A terror mission at a major city or a military installation like Fort Bragg would really be something to see.

      Delete
  6. There's even some precedent for the aliens hitting military sites in the game - think of the Terror mission maps that feature tank parks, for example. :)

    This really is brilliant - I can't wait for the next installment!

    ReplyDelete