Monday, March 7, 2016

The Long War, Part VIII - The Phony War

Previous: The Long War, Part VII - Global Unrest

April, 2016

By the beginning of April, X-Com could claim to have successfully completed nine missions. In addition to their successes to date, X-Com were also able to shoot down two more scout class UFOs (UFO-6 and UFO-7), and conduct salvage and recovery missions at the crash sites. X-Com were also able to stop abductions in progress in Shanghai, China. Anti-abduction missions were essentially counter-terrorism operations, and Colonel Bradford had plenty of operators with ample experience and training in this field within the ranks. The fact that the Chinese allowed X-Com to intervene within their borders surprised everyone, although the request was made with the caveat that Chinese operatives "Dacheng" Nguyen and "Xanziee" Tsang were included in the mission. Bradford was more than happy to comply, and the mission was completed without a hitch. As a gesture of good will, Bradford offered to turn over all recovered artefacts to the Chinese government, an act which won him some favour in Beijing, and some headshaking in Tokyo.

X-Com's March 2016 evaluation from the Council of 16. France withdrew on 11 March 2016, barely two months after X-Com was created.

The strike force had suffered two casualties, but was beginning to display unit cohesion and camaraderie after eight weeks together. Morale was high despite the aliens' total air superiority, and the squad leaders (with the exception of "Tora" Sato) appointed by Colonel Bradford were beginning to become comfortable in their roles. Researchers and engineers had access to enough alien cadavers, materials and tech for a lifetime of study, and governments and corporations with security clearance were beginning to realize the wealth of R&D potential the fledgling international organization had at its disposal. Requests began to pour in from various corners of the world, much to the dismay of head researcher Moira Vahlen, who counselled Bradford to hold onto the artefacts for the time being. Finally, X-Com was able to launch a second satellite from Tanegashima, greatly increasing X-Com's coverage of the skies over Asia. Overall it was a very encouraging start for the fledgling organisation.

X-Com operators relaxing in the mess hall. From left to right: Japan's "Tenshi" Hatakeyama; Israel's "Kitty Boom" Biton; and "Milady" Edwards from the UK. 

The world did not stand idly by as X-Com racked up these modest victories. The major powers conducted anti-alien programmes of their own, some of which were very public and transparent. Others were more clandestine, but they, too, enjoyed a similar level of success, if not more, than X-Com did in its early incarnation. Generally speaking special force units in their respective countries were far superior to X-Com's ad hoc and polyglot units, even if X-Com had some outstanding individuals in its ranks. X-Com did possess the advantage of combat experience against the extra-terrestrials, as they were pitted against the visitors on a weekly basis. Squaddies disseminated information among themselves as to the capabilities of the various aliens encountered by the task force, and constantly drilled, trained and developed tactics to combat them. Sectoids, while physically frail and inept soldiers, were treated warily due to the accounts told by "Bhagpuss" Taylor, "Mesmer" Levin and "Syp" Muyumba about the visions and sensations they could somehow induce. Outsiders were respected foes, and the sight of one was usually enough to summon as much firepower as X-Com could bring to bear due to their durability and regenerative capacity. Drones were annoying and difficult to hit, but packed a vicious short-range attack which could seriously injure, even kill - the sight of drones in the air prompted a blizzard of automatic weapons fire from the ground in every deployment.

World opinion was deeply divided as to how to best respond to the alien presence. The destruction of Earth's satellite network in November 2015 initially engulfed the globe in mass hysteria, as commentators predicted the imminent end of mankind. Air transit almost ground to a halt - the skies, so long a repository of human longing and ambition, became menacing and hostile. Hoarding and the acquisition of firearms became common place. Crackpots and lunatics of all stripes emerged from their lairs and circulated wild theories, some of which started to gain traction in the highly charged atmosphere of the closing days of 2015. By April 2016, however, humanity was returning to a sense of normalcy. The non-appearance of doomsday weapons or conquering hordes of extra-terrestrials took the edge of the terror experienced by most in the early days, and this soon gave way to acceptance and even derision. Late night show hosts and comedians began taking pot shots at the aliens, turning the sectoids into bumbling comic figures lost in space. Some people simply chose to ignore the UFO phenomenon. For many people, the presence of the aliens were limited to strange lights in the sky shown on national TV, and occasional stories circulating of abductions, visitations and little grey men. Faced with little more than stories on media, most people simply ignored them and went about their lives without a second thought.

X-Com's operations were also as clandestine as they could possibly be, even if the organization was the world's worst kept secret given its global mandate. As far as the world knew, Resolution 70 of the General Assembly only advocated the creation of an international task force dedicated to the research and investigation of the UFO phenomenon. The general public did not know that a consortium of 16 nations had agreed to the creation of such a task force, nor did they know that the task force was armed and funded by the US with the latest air interceptors at its disposal. Most people did not know that X-Com had a mixed brigade of about 6,000 UN soldiers along with its researchers and techs, nor that this brigade had been whittled down even further into a small elite strike force of about 50 soldiers. Even X-Com did not foresee that their security force would essentially become a counter-terrorist unit, but the aliens' hardiness and propensity to defend their crashed craft propelled the military arm of X-Com further and further into prominence. For the general public, the word X-Com conjured up an image of researchers and scientists in lab coats peering into telescopes and analysing UFO remains. They would have been right - but it was only part of the story.

Nigeria

On 7 April 2016 X-Com forces were called in to assist UN Major-General Peter Van Doorn in Nigeria. Doorn and his UN brigade were part of MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) and were en route to the Central African Republic to take up their posts when a UFO sighting forced them to make an unscheduled stop at Ilorin Airport in Nigeria. While waiting for clearance to continue their journey Doorn learned that the UFO had landed on the outskirts of the city of Ogbomosho, some 43 km to the south west of the airport. Nigerian army units went to the scene and surrounded the UFO. Soon afterwards confused reports on TV, radio and Internet gave conflicting accounts of a massive firefight in the area. Three hours later Nigerian government officials reached out to the UN for humanitarian assistance, citing that they were under attack by a sizeable force of aliens and had suffered casualties running in the thousands. Doorn and his brigade were ordered to the scene, and the UN peace keepers, combined with newly arrived members of the Nigerian army, raced to the town in commandeered vehicles to render whatever assistance they could. X-Com's presence was also formally requested by the Nigerian authorities. It was hoped that X-Com's experience in fighting the extra-terrestrials would prove invaluable in the developing crisis.

The crisis in Ogbomosho marked a turning point in the war against the aliens.

X-Com's Skyrangers were the fastest transport aircraft in the world, and they could cover the 13,000 km distance from Tanegashima to Ogbomosho in under 7 hours at a cruising speed of Mach 1.8 (approximately 1,900 km/h). The Skyranger was an amazing feat of engineering for its time. Kawasaki Heavy Industries had created a VTOL aircraft with a minimal radar profile capable of travelling at supersonic speeds. Engineers at Kawasaki had eliminated the sonic boom through the use of finely-tuned aerodynamics, fulfilling the promise of silent supersonic flight embodied in earlier prototypes like the SAI Quiet Supersonic Transport.

By April the Skyranger fleet had been expanded to three, and Colonel Bradford didn't hesitate in deploying all of them to Nigeria. Two Skyrangers would carry an eight soldier squad apiece, and a third would carry "Missy Mojo" Fitzgerald and the newest toy from Kawasaki Heavy Industries, the Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle (SHIV). The SHIV was a remote controlled heavy weapons platform making its operational debut. Japan still led the world in the field of robotics, and the SHIV was the logical consequence of the growing trend towards increased automation in the military. From bomb disposal robots to unmanned drones, humanity had been relying more and more on machines to fight their wars. The SHIV was the latest manifestation of this trend, and it was called "Thunder" by its Australian operator, Missy Mojo, in honour of the hard rock band AC/DC.

The two squads were led by "Okami" Takeda, with "Tora" Sato as his second-in-command. Okami's squad consisted of the Indians ("Noisy" Tendulkar, "Kurn" Jaiteley and "Jaedia" Dagur), the two Israelis ("Mesmer" Levin and "Kitty Boom" Biton) and Russian "Jeromai" Kurnakov. The final member of Okami's squad was Nigerian "Syp" Mayumba, who would act as translator and liaison. Tora's squad was composed of four Spanish speaking soldiers ("Rohan" Navarro, "Murf" Cervantes, "Chestnut" Jiminez and "Eldaeriel" Fonseca), one Australian ("Jewel" Phillips), one American ("Izlain" Favre) and Nigerian "Apple Cider" Agyapong, who would also function as translator and liaison for Tora's squad.  The diminutive Tora still remained unpopular despite a successful UFO crash recovery mission earlier in the month, so Bradford took care to surround him with dependable soldiers. Izlain was fluent in Japanese, and he was fast becoming the liaison officer between the Japanese officers and the rest of the squad.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries' SHIV (Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle) made its debut in X-Com's first operation in Nigeria. It was remotely operated by a human controller and could theoretically be used from X-Com HQ in Tanegashima, but in practice was usually controlled by a soldier safely ensconced in the Skyranger.

The soldiers were roused, kitted out, and on board the Skyranger within an hour of the call from the UN. Several soldiers were concerned as to the nature of Nigeria's distress call. The sectoids they had encountered so far seemed incapable of inflicting the type of damage that had been wrought in Ogbomosho. The lack of concrete intelligence on the ground meant that they would be going in blind, and while they received assurances that they would receive more information as the events developed, it did not assuage the soldiers. They had no way of knowing that their fears were to be proven well-founded - the events in Nigeria would mark the beginning of a new phase in the war against the aliens.

Next: The Long War, Part IX - Ogbomosho

3 comments:

  1. Really enjoyable read - especially because I am in love with XCOM right now. I see an animated series in the future =)

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