Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wrestling with X-Com

This is a break from the Long War story, and it's just going to be a bunch of stuff from my head about the difficulties I'm having with both the game and the story. I'm not going to reveal the decisions I make about where I want the story to go, because that would spoil the fun for people who are reading. I will outline thoughts and possibilities though, without committing to anything. This post will also meander and not have any real structure, just more a compilation of my notes, observations and miscellaneous stuff about X-Com. I'm basically arguing with myself.
The Game
I still haven't finished the Long War campaign on any difficulty, because I keep restarting the campaign. The first two were just dry runs to about May or June, while the third and fourth were aborted because I started cheating. I'm on my fifth (!) campaign, and it's on the cusp of being aborted as well - there's a way to cheat even in Ironman campaigns in both X-Com and X-Com 2 - if one of your favourite soldier dies then you can Alt-F4 and quit before the program saves your game state. Then you restart the game and voila! - it's the previous turn, your soldier is still alive, and thanks to an amazing feat of pre-cognition a la The Minority Report, you can take steps to avoid your soldier's death. The thing is when you start writing a series like this you start really caring about your characters, and it's hard to relinquish control over their fates. I'd even planned arcs for some soldiers assuming that they won't die - when the aliens foil my plans by shooting my heroine in the head then I am sorely tempted to use the Alt-F4 solution. In my previous Ironman campaigns I resisted this temptation because it was more about winning the games rather than the individual characters themselves - in the campaign I am recording for my story I am ashamed to say I did this to save Hatakeyama in mission 54, a character whose namesake has personal meaning for me. Then I did it again to save Jeromai in mission 85, whose namesake wrote a blog that inspired me to do this series. It's hard to let go of your soldiers, especially when they start developing extensive back stories. Once the seal was opened, however, it was only natural for me to start reloading whenever things went bad. Before I knew it, my campaign was compromised by numerous reloads, even thought I'd set out to play the game on Ironman mode. I should have just played a normal game, with saves and reloads. It would have been more honest.
The main thing that stops me from abandoning the game is the length of the Ironman campaign. I am on mission 125 (!) and I still haven't finished the damned game. 125 missions including two alien base assaults, one base defence, several large UFO assaults, dozens of abductions, and much, much more. I've completed the DLC arcs successfully - Operation Slingshot was completed without reloading, while I cheated at the end of Operation Progeny to save the psykers from being killed by the aliens. Overall I have reloaded 22 times in 125 missions, starting from mission 54, followed by mission 85, then with increasing frequency from then on out. Save scumming is technically possible even if you don't enable save scumming in the options - while the RNG result is the same, you can change the order of shots to take advantage of high rolls and low rolls. If your sniper missed and then your assault guy hit, and the sniper shot was more crucial, you simply change the order of shots in the reloaded game to take advantage of better RNG result for the second shot. This, too, is cheating.

The death of Hatakeyama was a tragedy, but her subsequent return disrupted the fabric of time and space, and irrevocably tainted the fabric of the universe.

So the end result is that I'm going to start my Long War Ironman campaign again. AGAIN. No more Alt- F4. If they die, they die, and I'm just going to be a sad panda, and will have to write around it. My squad can't be the saviours of humanity if they are immortal, even if it hurts like hell to lose them. Alt-F4 is the gaming equivalent of a deus ex machina intervention in traditional media, and it taints the purity of the campaign for me. I know that real life is more important than pure gaming, but for some reason it really irks me to know that I reloaded. When the game is over and humanity wins, I'm not going to feel a sense of accomplishment - it'll just be the end of a rote task which took a long time to complete. And make no mistake, I will win - you can't lose when you have the ability to reload your game. So, bollocks to that - I'm starting again. It took 54 games for me to take the Alt-F4 option, and that was because X-Com hit me below the belt and killed my beloved Yuri. If it was any other soldier, I would have grimaced and took it. But in her case I couldn't let it stand, and I brought her back. That decision unravelled time and space, and corrupted the campaign irrevocably. In games as in real life, I just have to let her go.
The Story
What I do have in my favour is that the Long War story is only up to April 2016, so it won't take much to catch up. There's no pressure on me to complete the game - I've already beaten both games, so I can dawdle along at my leisure. I know the tech tree now, so I can try and navigate an optimum path to give my boys and girls the best chance to succeed. It's going to take some creative playing to align some of  the story-telling elements, thought - I'm going to have to hope that RNG is kind, and give me enough male Japanese soldiers to re-constitute my squad leaders Takeda, Hara, Ishikawa and Sato. They all also have to live through March and April. Luckily I can modify the Long War INI file to set the percentage chances of recruiting a soldier from a specific nation. What I can't control is the gender of the soldier, which incidentally, is one of the more difficult parts story-wise about X-Com. In X-Com genders are represented equally in the strike force, and this is not the case in the world circa 2015-2017, especially in elite formations. I've no doubt that female representation in global armed forces will increase, maybe even reach parity sometime in the future, but for now I need to find a plausible reason to explain the 50/50 representation in X-Com in 2015-2016.
The ability to modify what countries your rookies will come from will also solve a problem introduced in the Long War mod - namely that the recruits literally come from all over the globe. The Long War pulls people from over 100 countries. This is not a problem if you're just playing the game, and it's actually pretty cool, but a problem for someone like me who has to somehow justify what a guy from Eritrea is doing in the task force. Not just from Eritrea, but one dude from Eritrea. The fictitious conceit I am using is that X-Com originated from the UN, and even they don't take people from everywhere. Back in the Korean War the minimum size a country could contribute to a UN force was a battalion, but this restriction has been lifted since then. For fictional purposes I'm assuming the minimum size is a platoon of 30 soldiers. Say 3 platoons to a company - 3 companies to a battalion - 3 battalions to a brigade. That means 27 countries for the entire X-Com force, and that's assuming each country only contributes a platoon of 30 guys. In reality nations usually donate at least a battalion, and that would mean that Bradford's brigade is actually made up of three battalions, say one from Japan (as the host nation), one from the US, and one from India (the biggest troop contributor in the UN). I can sort of wiggle around it by making some countries donate companies, and poorer ones donate platoons, but then I get screwed when a solitary African dude from an obscure country rolls up and joins the strike force. Where the hell did he come from? Starting a new game and modifying the INI file will allow me to pick the countries from which the recruits will hail from. The inclusion of the 16 Council nations are a no brainer, but I'd also like to add several more, specifically NATO members who joined the fight in Ogbomosho. Adding Doorn's brigade to the X-Com force also increases the pool by one more brigade (another 27 possible nations), and since they were originally deployed to the CAR we could expand the recruit pool to include more African nations. I just have a problem with utterly random recruits who pop up and have no plausible business being there.
If that sounds really anally retentive, then you're getting a glimpse of how obsessive compulsive I am about these things. An alternative explanation to X-Com is that it is a privately funded organisation with roots dating back to the McCarthy years, a la the story told in The Bureau (the X-Com spin-off game set in the 1960s). In this version of X-Com history X-Com was apparently set up as a bulwark against Communism, and re-purposed to fight the aliens when the invasion began. I would have been happy for the clandestine organization route, but the problem then became who the hell is supplying the planes and the satellites? Satellites and planes are prohibitively expensive, and I only know of one real world private company - SpaceX - which can afford to launch their own satellites. Even SpaceX has military support - they are allowed to use Air Force bases, and their biggest contracts are government and military. The only existing organization I can think of capable of creating the X-Com organization is either the UN or perhaps the US on its own. Since in-game lore depicts X-Com as having the support of a mysterious Council of 16, the UN was a no-brainer.
I also have a problem with X-Com being a clandestine organisation funded internationally but having a global reach and mandate. This is a giant contradiction in terms for me, and if based in reality, would be a NATO sized organisation but one that is supposedly secret and covert. If you look at the members of the coalition they are composed of nations that have been at historical odds with each other - China and Japan, and the US and Russia, for instance. I have a hard time seeing the coalition surviving 50 odd years without fracturing or letting the world know of its existence, especially during the Cold War period. Who is asking them to intervene, and where are they getting the authority? Or are they just flagrantly breaking international borders when conducting their missions? The only way the clandestine organization works is if it is hidden within one country, most likely the US. I would find that plausible, but their excursions into superpower airspace would be fraught with danger and liable to cause international incidents. Also, if they've existed for years then why is their gear still so abysmal? Vahlen and Shen basically learn to make a UFO in one year, while the only thing the Bureau has to show for their efforts after 50 odd years of possessing alien tech is the Skyranger. Erm, good job, guys?
Anyway, all this made me decide to ignore The Bureau as a source of lore, and just pull from the X-Com series in general. The historical narrative approach works for me because it removes the burden of having to be original. All I have to do is make inferences based on what I know of X-Com lore and human institutions like the UN and NATO. The whole Ogbomosho arc came out of what I knew of the chryssalid life cycle as depicted in game - an organism like that could wipe out a continent, yet in game we're supposed to accept that a squad of international soldiers can rock up and save the day on their own, hours after the aliens land. Doorn was just an NPC in one of the game's Council missions, but I needed to come up with a plausible reason why X-Com would have to rescue him, which made him into a UN guy, which then begged the question of the who the hell he was and what the hell he was doing in Ogbomosho, and before I knew it, he was a Major-General commanding a MINUSCA brigade bound for the Central African Republic. I didn't pick Ogbomosho either - I didn't know it existed until it came up as a terror attack site in the game. Now I know the street layout, a little bit about its history, its geography relative to the rest of Nigeria, the language spoken by the locals, and all sorts of other things I would never have researched had I not decided to write this story. I've always been a big history buff - if you really like historical narratives you should read Anthony Beever's books on Stalingrad, Berlin and D-Day. That's the style I'm patterning my writing on, and he has the added advantage of writing about real events. There's so much drama and horror in human history that fantastical stuff really pales in comparison. Even the half million dead in Ogbomosho is a drop in the bucket in the total amount of people killed in the numerous conflicts that have wracked and are still wracking Africa. If the aliens weren't so hell bent on turning us into DNA soup their arrival might actually be beneficial - but I guess that's like saying Hitler would have been remembered as a great German statesman if he hadn't decided to liquidate the Jews and start a world war.
This leads me to the problem of the schizophrenic nature of the alien invasion in the game. The aliens can't seem to make up their mind whether they are going to infiltrate us or conquer us from within (Thin Men, Faceless, Seekers, EXALT and Sectoid Commanders) or they're going to go old school and conquer us with brute force (Floaters, Mutons, Chryssalids, Cyberdiscs and Sectopods). But it seems to me that if the aliens wanted to, they could do both equally well. It makes no sense to do both, however, and it's something I'm going to have to reconcile somehow because that's what happens in the game. I could just ignore the events in game, but it serves a narrative purpose for me. I'd like to keep one foot in reality, and one foot in X-Com. If I stray too far from either, the end result will not be the one I am after. I really like the X-Com bestiary, including the 1994 version, and hope to incorporate both old and new aliens into the mix. There are some weird lifeforms in the 1994 version that newcomers to the series will not have been exposed to. Even the chryssalids were different, but the thing that makes them scary - their ability to grow exponentially - is represented well in both the 1994 and 2012 versions of the game. It's funny that I can cherry pick the bits I like - i.e. the relationship between the viper race and the chryssalids in the 1994 game - and ignore the stuff I don't - i.e. The Bureau's origin story.
Before I end this longwinded spiel I would like to say many thanks to the people who have commented both here and on Reddit - I really appreciate the feedback and criticism. The amount of traffic brought to this site by Reddit was just staggering - the day I posted the story on Reddit the blog recorded over 10000 hits for the first time ever. I normally potter along at under 100 a day, and I reckon 80-90% of the traffic is automated stuff from Russia, so it's nice to have people read my stuff and comment from time to time. Because of the feedback I've corrected spelling errors, cut out stuff which people thought were immersion breaking, and changed dodgy images like the F-14s mistakenly labelled as F-15s. I will also do more research into aspects of the air war after some valid criticisms made by VariableFrequency on Reddit about my choice of X-Com's interceptors. Having an audience has made me more meticulous and thorough. It might be fiction, but its fiction grounded in reality, so I have the duty to make sure the reality part hinges with what we know in the 21st century. I will also repost the story on Reddit every five posts or so, just as an update for people who saw the first nine posts, said they liked it, but then promptly forgot about it.

Jeromai also died in an alternate universe, but was his death pre-destined? Or is reality just a tree of possibilities, separated by the thinnest of veils? Fucked if I know.
As for canon, the release of X-Com 2 made all versions of the story possible. That's the great thing about X-Com - we make our own version of the universe through playing the game. As I said, I'm going to restart my Long War Ironman campaign, and there will no reloads or Alt-F4s. I'll play it on Classic difficulty, and if I win the campaign, the story gets a happy ending. If I lose, the story will link to X-Com 2 and detail the fall of X-Com and the demise of humanity. The first two months are going to be on rails, because I'm going to have to rename soldiers to assume the identities of existing characters in the story. And - ugh - I'm going to have to sacrifice some rookies to replicate the death of casualties suffered in March and April. Give them the names of the fallen, and then make them charge the enemy lines screaming, "KILL ME! KILL ME!" And regardless of what happens in my new campaign the first country to leave X-Com will always be France, and the first terror attack will always be in Ogbomosho. Once we get into May, however, the story is free to follow whatever trail it sees fit. I'm not sure what is going to happen in the alternate universe my characters are inhabiting, but I hope we win.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Long War, Part XII - The Battle of Ogbomosho

Previous: The Long War, Part XI - Crisis in Africa

The Battle of Ogbomosho

The Skyrangers arrived in Ogbomosho early evening Nigerian time on 7 April 2016. By this point the chryssalids had been running amok for almost 12 hours, and their numbers had swollen to over several thousand. It was fortunate for the X-Com operatives that they landed in an area relatively devoid of the creatures. Had they landed in the southern part of Ogbomosho, where most of the creatures were concentrated, they would all most likely have perished. Without communications from Doorn "Okami" Takeda did not want to hazard a landing at the university, but rather chose a site half a kilometre west. His squad would then loop around to the north, while the second squad commanded by "Tora" Sato would loop around to the south. Okami and Tora were able to lead their respective squads from the drop site and link up with UN troops still holding out in the university.
Tora's squad encountered an impregnated civilian en route, and was able to witness first hand the transformation from human host to newborn chryssalid. The squad soon learnt that light and noise drew the creatures. Killing the alien pupa drew several more, and they were forced to conduct a fighting withdrawal to the university. They were only saved from being overrun by making it to the perimeter. UN troops keeping quiet under light and noise discipline opened fire to cover the squad, and they made it through the lines thanks to the intervention of the blue helmets.

The cordon around Ogbomosho in the evening of 8 April 2016. Nigerian reinforcements from Ibadan maintained a strong front, while the arriving X-Com brigade (marked in red) was used to complete the encirclement of Ogbomosho and to reinforce the UN lines.

The arrival of X-Com only marginally increased the firepower of the defenders. The real contribution made by X-Com was through the use of the Skyrangers in ferrying people and supplies in and out of Ogbomosho. Doorn refused to abandon his troops and the civilians trapped in the university, and faced with such intransigence, Okami decided to put the Skyrangers to work. With most of Nigerian air power tied up in operations against the Boko Haram the Skyrangers became the life line in and out of the city. The Japanese pilots ran dozens of missions from Ogbomosho to either Ilorin Airport to the north, or to Oyo to the south. They evacuated thousands of civilians, UN personnel and Nigerian army soldiers during the period between 7-9 April 2016. They also flew in supplies, ammunition and reinforcements to the defenders in the university. Fuel became a problem due to the lack of specialised jet propellant used by the Skyrangers, but under advisement from Chief Engineer Raymond Shen the pilots simply filled up with commercial jet fuel at Ilorin Airport. "It'll do in a pinch," stated the engineer. "We'll clean out the pipes when you boys and girls come home. And in the meantime keep your speed below supersonic, or you may have some...difficulties."

The troops trapped in the university initially considered a wholesale evacuation of the pocket, but it was judged that a Skyranger airlift could not carry out enough people at once without compromising the perimeter. Chryssalid attacks were virtually non-stop, and the encircled troops were forced to fend off attacks all night. Most of these attacks were sporadic, random and disorganized, but on occasion the defenders were swamped by massive pods of chryssalids which threatened to overwhelm them. Even worse than the attacks were the constant pleas for help from civilians, soldiers, and police officers trapped in the city. When the UN first arrived in Ogbomosho Doorn organized several patrols whose primary purpose was to find and escort civilians to the safe zone around the university. These patrols were very successful but were discontinued once night fell, despite the pleas and protests of the civilians within the university. All the UN troops could do was listen to the increasingly desperate men and women begging, pleading, threatening and screaming on cell phones and emergency bands, and advise them to either stay put, escape the city or make their way to the university. Organized hold-outs could resist the chryssalids while they had ammunition, but once they were out they were doomed. Hiding was more successful, but ineffective if a chryssalid strayed too close - later autopsies on the creatures revealed that electroreception numbered among one of their senses. The creature had the ability to detect the weak bioelectrical fields generated by living beings from a range of about 4-5 metres - cowering behind a wooden door or wall usually ended brutally with the chryssalid using its forelegs to punch through the obstruction. Metal partitions offered better protection from detection because the metal blocked or distorted electrical fields (creating rudimentary Faraday shields), but the aliens also appeared to possess excellent eyesight and hearing. People who hid on rooftops and basements fared better, but their existence was poised on a knife's edge - any noise, stumble or mistake had disastrous consequences, especially as the number of chryssalids exploded out of control. Civilians at the university determined to find family and loved ones tried to head out into the city on their own, but were stopped by UN troops under Doorn's orders. Some managed to slip past the perimeter, and were never seen again.

Dawn over Ogbomosho.

Okami raised the idea of using the Skyrangers to rescue clusters of civilians trapped on rooftops, and Bradford initially gave the go-ahead. The use of the Skyranger was a double edged sword - it could be used to ferry people in and out of the city, but also drew the chryssalids in large numbers. Okami conducted several rescue missions throughout the city, and in each one the template remained the same - one Skyranger would be sent to create noise and draw the chryssalids away from the target area, while another would land, rescue the civilians, and take off before too many of the chryssalids arrived. X-Com operators provided perimeter security during the operations. The missions were discontinued because it was judged that using the Skyrangers to extract the wounded and bring in ammunition and reinforcements was more critical to the survival of the pocket, which was in constant danger of being overrun. One Skyranger piloted by "Variable" Fukuyama was sent on frequent runs around the city with one simple goal - to create noise and draw chryssalids away from the university. The importance of this diversion did not become apparent until the dawn of 8 April 2016, when X-Com and UN troops finally had enough visibility to see what had become of the city. Scanning with binoculars from the highest vantage points of the university revealed a heart-stopping sight - the city of Ogbomosho was awash with movement as chryssalids roamed unchecked on the streets. "There were so many of them that the ground looked like it was moving," stated "Mesmer" Levin, an Israeli scout sniper. Mexican sniper "Chestnut" Jimenez added: "The chryssalids were terrifying. Anyone who says they weren't scared is either lying or a lunatic. The fact that they used to be people, though - that's the worst part. And the thing that scared everyone the most was the thought that we might end up like them."

By the morning of 8 April 2016 UN and Nigerian forces had created a U-shaped cordon around the city. Estimates of chryssalid numbers were now in the tens of thousands, and the creatures had begun migrating away from the city. Outside Ogbomosho the advantage lay with the human defenders. Unhampered by urban clutter and with long clear lines of sight the soldiers mowed down hundreds of chryssalids on the outskirts of the city. Rifles, machine guns, mortars and howitzers were extremely effective in the open fields. By contrast the university was in constant danger of being overrun, and it was only the bravery and steadiness of the troops barricaded within, and the constant diversionary runs made by Skyrangers over the city that gave the defenders the breathing room to survive. Even the cordon outside the city began to feel the strain of having to kill thousands and thousands of chryssalids. The battle became more about logistics rather than combat - the vital question which determined whether or not the chryssalids could be contained was whether the soldiers could remain supplied with enough bullets to hold the line.

The arrival of the X-Com brigade from Tanegashima on the evening of 8 April 2016 alleviated some of the pressure on the human lines. They arrived in Ilorin Airport, hustled on board a vast melange of troop transports, and driven through the night to their positions. The only gap in the human cordon lay to the northwest, and the biggest fear of the crisis was a chryssalid breakout in this direction. To the northwest of the city lay
Old Oyo National Park, a wildlife sanctuary populated by buffalo, antelopes, lions and many other types of African fauna. It was not known at the time whether the chryssalids could impregnate non-human species, but it was a fair assumption - the nightmare scenario which Nigeria, the UN and X-Com wanted to avoid was a wholesale chryssalid migration to the park. Once the creatures had the run of the park they had access to thousands of new hosts, as well as the freedom to spread out in any direction to rampage across all of Nigeria. Two battalions were placed across this gap to complete the encirclement, and the remainder sent to shore up parts of the cordon which were wavering and in danger of collapse. Doorn's heavy equipment, vehicles, transports and ammunition reserves also arrived at Ilorin Airport after being redirected back from the CAR, and these were funnelled to the front lines as fast as possible.

UN forces drive through the night to reinforce the cordon around Ogbomosho.

The night of 8 April 2016 was the most critical of the battle of Ogbomosho. The chryssalid population had stabilized - there were no more easily available hosts left to impregnate, and any remaining survivors were either within the university, escaped to the human lines, or hidden away in the deepest, darkest places they could find. The chryssalids, driven by a deep seated need to reproduce, began leaving the city en masse in search of new hosts. The human lines were formidably effective during daytime, but once night fell their advantage was diminished. Some units, notably the US and UK companies in the UN brigade, were fortunate enough to be equipped with night vision goggles and were able to maintain their combat effectiveness. Other units used starshells and flares to illuminate the darkness. Some units had none of these advantages, and it was these sections of the line that were most vulnerable. The nights of 7-8 April coincided with the new moon over Nigeria, shrouding the area in pitch black with only the stars providing ambient light. Without visibility some parts of the line were forced to let the chryssalids come dangerously close, and the resultant contacts were highly risky affairs. Some parts of the line gave way, but were immediately plugged by whatever reserves the human defenders could muster. Every member of both UN brigades were committed - if a soldier could hold a rifle, then they were in the line, or waiting in reserve to plug the gaps. Another difficulty was the melange of nationalities in the brigades. A UN brigade was not a brigade in the same way a national brigade was, with a unified chain of command, shared language and customs, and efficient communications. A UN brigade in reality was composed of a group of battalions, companies and sometimes platoons from different countries with fragmented chains of command, disparate languages and customs and wild variations in rank. Communications was an ongoing nightmare, requiring translation, repetition and clarification. To combat this Bradford seeded every company with members of his staff, and paired them with translators within the unit to ensure that he received accurate situation reports and that his orders were carried out. Even in the face of the enemy there were petty displays from officers from various nations who refused to take commands from a soldier from another country whom they considered to be their inferior in rank. It took a polite phone call from Japanese Force Commander Iwata to ensure compliance. Even the Force Commander's orders were not orders per se, but formal requests. If a company captain or major proved particularly intransigent it would take a phone call to that officer's superiors in their home nation to force them to act, and even then it would be begrudgingly.

One advantage in the UN's favour was the simplicity of the task in hand. All that was asked of the human defenders was to hold the line at all costs, and every man and woman, whether they were a commando, a line infantry soldier, or logistics clerk could understand this elemental imperative. The dawn of 9 April 2016 saw the defenders weary, exhausted and almost out of ammunition. The lines had nearly been breached in a dozen places, and it was only through the expert handling of his meagre reserves that Bradford managed to stave off a breakthrough. The Skyrangers were again co-opted into service, scrambling three squads of the X-Com strike force into crisis points in the cordon and bringing forward reserves of ammunition to the tired UN troops. The Kawasaki Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle (SHIV) excelled in its first deployment, taking a massive toll on the aliens anywhere it was deployed until it ran out of ammunition. The Skyranger pilots were at the point of collapse, and at the very end of their combat effectiveness - only the use of copious amounts of caffeine and amphetamines allowed them to continue their runs over the city. The Nigerians in the southern half of the cordon were rock solid - they had none of the UN's disadvantages and they were constantly reinforced by more and more troops and equipment from Ibadan. They were ably led by their commander, Major-General Ilo, and more importantly, they were on home soil and fighting for their homes and families. They needed no other motivation to stand their ground.

The UN defence, on the other hand, was compromised by its multinational composition, fractured command and control, and lack of supply. Bradford had already begun planning a general withdrawal to ease the pressure on his lines when the sound of jets overhead gave the beleaguered defenders hope. The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) from NATO arrived in the morning of 9 April 2016. Tireless lobbying from the UN Secretary-General and visceral, shocking footage of the carnage in Ogbomosho taken by helicopters overhead finally convinced the heads of NATO of the seriousness of the threat. European fighters screamed overhead and made bombing runs over the chryssalid herds, destroying swathes of the creatures in a single pass, shortly followed by helicopters and paratroopers. NATO command coordinated with Bradford to place the arriving soldiers where they were needed, and this combined with daylight, allowed the cordon to stabilize. In the afternoon of 9 April NATO commandos from the VJTF launched an offensive to link up with the encircled troops in the university. Advancing in a wedge down Ogbomosho Road Belgian, Dutch and German troops were able to clear a route, creating a salient with the university at its apex, and providing relief to the exhausted defenders who had been fighting non-stop for over 48 hours in the pocket. The lines had been stabilized - the pocket relieved - and more and more NATO troops were arriving en masse to provide fresh troops, ammunition and supplies. The crisis had finally been averted.

NATO forces arrive to relieve the beleaguered UN troops.

On 10 April 2016 Nigerian soldiers observed several chryssalids walking slowly and aimlessly on the southern perimeter of Ogbomosho. Further sightings suggested that the aliens were sick and debilitated, and this observation was soon confirmed all along the perimeter. On 11 April 2016 Nigerian units pushed cautiously into the city and found an amazing sight. Everywhere they found chryssalids dead or dying on the streets. They were still dangerous if approached, and made feeble lunges at soldiers who came too close, but in their incapacitated state they were easily dispatched. The carapace of the chryssalids had faded from a vivid purple to a bleached violet, and they appeared addled and disorientated. A general advance was ordered all along the cordon, and weary UN and Nigerian troops, along with fresh NATO forces itching for a fight, closed the noose around the city. Everywhere they went the situation was the same - the chryssalids were collapsing and dying in droves. Every now and then the troops encountered an active chryssalid that was still fast and dangerous, but these became increasingly rare and were easily put down. By 12 April the crisis was considered over, and Ogbomosho was in human hands again.


The initial hypothesis for the wholesale death of the chryssalids was that they fell victim to pathogens in the atmosphere which their immune systems were not equipped to handle. Comparisons were made to the north, south and central American Indians, whose population and culture were initially decimated by the introduction of diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and diphtheria by European settlers. The survivors, like the Europeans, were able to develop antibodies and resistance to the introduced diseases, but not before the disease exacted a deadly toll. It was thought that the chryssalid's immune system, with its affinity for human biochemistry, fell victim to some innocuous bug to which humans had adapted to generations earlier. This hypothesis would be challenged by Dr. Vahlen several days later after her team conducted extensive examinations of the creature. According to Vahlen, the creature's hybrid cells exhibited signs of accelerated senescence. "This creature didn't die from any disease or virus or bacteria," Vahlen declared. "It simply died of old age." Vahlen's autopsies revealed that the chryssalids only lived for about four to five days, and were most dangerous in the first 48 hours of their inception. By the third or fourth days the accelerated ageing took its toll in the form of dulled reflexes, lethargy and listlessness. By the fourth or fifth day they were too weak to move, and died shortly afterwards.

The traumatized survivors of Ogbomosho.

Despite the demise of the chryssalids Dr. Vahlen remainded deeply concerned. Cellular mitosis in the creatures occurred at a rate which made terrestrial life seem glacial by comparison. More worrying for her and her team were the tell tale signs which pointed to the fact that the organism was designed rather than evolved. Vahlen had no way of knowing what kind of world the chryssalids hailed from, but she was highly doubtful that environmental factors could have evolved such an organism. She pointed to the elegance of its design and its specific ability to interact with carbon-based biochemistry as proof that the creature was bio-engineered. "It's the perfect bioweapon," Vahlen stated. "If you introduce a single organism to an enemy city, it will decimate the civilian population in a matter of hours. Once it runs out of hosts, they will all die off within four to five days, allowing your soldiers to walk into the city without any danger to themselves." Her grim warnings did not end there. "If the aliens decided to turn their hand to biological warfare on a viral, even bacterial level, the resultant diseases could wipe out humankind in hours given the speed of alien cellular replication. If they can engineer something as complex and deadly as a chryssalid, with its bizarre hybrid life cycle, then a simple virus would be child's play for them."

Nigeria remained a cauldron of unrest in the days after the crisis. The losses in Ogbomosho were catastrophic. Identifying the actual number of victims proved an almost impossible task, given how the chryssalids consumed their victims and left little of their hosts behind. The inability to conclusively identify the dead left many families in a hellish limbo with no closure and no body to mourn. Entire families and communities disappeared without a trace. It was estimated that over half a million Nigerians lost their lives during the attack, making it the single most devastating attack in the nation's history. Some incredible tales of survival emerged in the aftermath of Ogbomosho. Some children were inexplicably left alone by the chryssalids for no apparent reason. Anyone in the vicinity of these children were spared by the chryssalids, and these children were soon deified by Vodun ("voodoo") practitioners for possessing strong juju, or supernatural power. Others Nigerians from Christian denominations shunned them and called them the spawn of the Devil. Even more incredible were stories of how the chryssalids appeared to respect, even fear snakes. A snake charmer from Ogbomosho recounted an incredible tale of walking in the streets with a snake draped around his neck and being left alone by hundreds of chryssalids who gave him a wide berth. Upon learning of the snake's apparently talismanic powers the snake charmer draped several snakes over the shoulders of his family and walked them safely to UN lines, much to the astonishment of the blue helmets who saw the horde of chryssalids parting like the Red Sea in Biblical mythology to allow the passage of this Nigerian family.

For X-Com the crisis in Ogbomosho was a baptism of fire which unified and gave the organization a clear purpose. For the first time the entire brigade, not just the strike force, had fought a common foe, and it created a strong esprit de corps among the soldiers which went beyond national lines. For the first time the soldiers began to think of themselves as soldiers of humanity, as opposed to soldiers of whatever nation-state they hailed from. The leaders of X-Com began to see the possibilities of the wide mandate given by the UN resolution, and the size of the X-Com reaction force almost doubled when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon folded the remains of Doorn's brigade into the unit. To commemorate the fallen, Bradford requested and was granted permission to create a unit badge for X-Com which separated them from other UN forces deployed in peacekeeping missions around the globe. X-Com also adopted a motto that would one day become as famous as many of the other mottos sported by other famous military units in history, such as the SAS's "Who Dares Wins" or the US Marines' Semper Fidelis ("Always Faithful"). X-Com's new motto was Vigilo Confido, or roughly translated from Latin - "Trust In Our Vigilance".

Vigilo Confido.

Next: The Long War, Part XIII - Escalation

The Long War, Part XI - Crisis in Africa

Insurgency in Nigeria

The developing crisis in Nigeria coincided with a massive Boko Haram uprising already underway in Borno State in northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram was acknowledged as one of the most brutal and vicious jihadist groups of the early 21st century, eclipsing even the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the number of people killed in terrorist attacksThe group was responsible for the kidnapping of 276 school girls in a raid in Chibok in April 2014, and they routinely employed women and children in their ranks to act as soldiers and terrorist bombers. In March 2015 Boko Haram openly declared their allegiance to ISIS, creating an alliance between two of the world's most deadliest terrorist groups. By the early months of 2016, however, it was widely believed that Boko Haram was on the run. A coalition made up of the nations of Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger launched a series of offensives into Boko Haram territory in 2015 and 2016, destroying militant strongholds, freeing hostages and driving the jihadist group underground. In December 2015 President Buhari boasted that Boko Haram was "technically defeated".

Members of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram pose for a photo for distribution on social media.

The massive uprising in April 2016 took the African coalition completely by surprise. A series of devastating suicide attacks employing women and children suicide bombers ravaged the western African states, and these attacks occurred in conjunction with a ground offensive to retake Boko Haram holdings in the area around Lake Chad. The coalition was taken by surprise by the viciousness and speed of the counter-offensive, which retook vast swathes of territory. It was during this counter-offensive that military observers from the UK noted the deployment of a new radical splinter group working side by side with Boko Haram and operating under the ISIS banner. This group appeared well-armed, organised and formidably effective, carrying out commando operations with tactical precision then disappearing without a trace. Identified as possible mercenaries by CIA and MI6 intelligence, these mysterious soldiers of fortune raided supply depots, carried out night attacks and cut coalition supply lines. This radical group pledged their allegiance to ISIS, but distinguished themselves with a new banner depicting a single white Arabic word on a field of black. The word was "sabbaha", or as translated into English - "exalt".

The Black Standard of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This standard was adopted by Boko Haram in March 2015 when the jihadist group pledged allegiance to ISIS.

UN Response

With western African troops heavily engaged in Borno President Buhari had no option but to make an impassioned plea for assistance from UN and NATO forces. The magnitude of the crisis in Ogbomosho took everyone by surprise. No one could have anticipated a lifeform like the chryssalid, and the very real existential and exponential threat it posed not just to Nigeria, but to all life on Earth. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon responded by diverting UN troops earmarked for the Central African Republic to Ogbomosho, and by calling X-Com to the scene. X-Com's global mandate was couched in very general terms, but the very vagueness of the UN resolution proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed X-Com to deploy virtually anywhere in the world under the guise of "investigating the UFO phenomenon". More important was the fact that X-Com had an over strength UN brigade at its disposal, consisting of approximately 6000 soldiers. The biggest criticism of the UN has always been its lack of a standing army, or a rapid reaction force that could speedily deploy to trouble spots around the world. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once stated:

In an ironic twist of fate X-Com's general mandate to investigate the UFO phenomenon also allowed it to deploy the soldiers under its command virtually anywhere in the world. In practice any such deployment would be preceded by a formal request, but it opened the door for future clandestine operations without official government permission in the future. It had become the UN's first de facto standing army. It possessed no authority to intervene in internal disputes or conflicts between nation-states, but had carte blanche from the UN General Assembly to cross state lines when it came to incidents involving the extra-terrestrials.

X-Com, Japan and NATO

X-Com was notified of the developing crisis in Ogbomosho at 8 pm Japan Standard Time, three hours after Nigerian forces breached the UFO. Operators were hastily briefed on the deteriorating situation in Ogbomosho, and within the hour three Skyrangers were airborne and winging their way to Nigeria to assist the UN relief effort led by Major-General Peter Van Doorn. X-Com Force Commander Kiyofumi Iwata and Deputy Force Commander Colonel John Bradford could only listen in disbelief at the unfolding drama. X-Com had never encountered floaters or chryssalids before, and could offer no advice to the stunned Nigerian forces grappling with this new enemy. When a clearer picture of the new enemy's capabilities emerged Bradford realised that the strike force would not be sufficient. He immediately contacted his superiors in the US military and asked for NATO intervention. Unlike the UN, NATO already possessed a rapid reaction force called the Nato Response Force. In September 2014 this reaction force was supplemented by a spearhead force called the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which could begin deploying anywhere in the world within 48 hours. The VJTF was created in response to the increasing tensions in the Ukraine, and this force was expanded further from a brigade of 5000 to 13000 to finally 40000 troops in June 2015. Given the speed of the chryssalid growth Bradford formally requested the intervention of the VJTF to assist in the containment of the organism.
NATO members meet in an emergency meeting to discuss intervention options at NATO HQ in Brussels.

Bradford's request for assistance was met with incredulity, and his warnings about the chryssalid threat disregarded.  In hindsight such scepticism was not without foundation - the chryssalid and its life cycle beggared belief, and even troops on the ground had problems accepting the reality of such a creature. NATO did pledge to assist African forces against the Boko Haram, judging this to be the more credible threat. They would be sadly mistaken. The problem facing X-Com was that the aliens' ability to deploy anywhere in the world far outstripped the world's ability to deploy troops fast enough to contain them. Nonetheless, Bradford did not sit on his heels while waiting for the NATO response. He took steps to mobilise the remainder of the X-Com brigade on the same night the strike force took off for Ogbomosho. General Iwata also formally asked for the assistance and intervention of Japan Ground Self-Defence Force units, but Prime Minister Abe, wary of the political backlash, reluctantly refused. Article 9 of the American-written Japanese Constitution still forbade the use of force except in self-defence, and while Abe's cabinet had passed a bill allowing for a more flexible interpretation of "self-defence", Abe did not want to risk inflaming public opinion in Japan. A very strong and pervasive pacifist tradition had taken root in Japan after their total defeat in the Second World War, and this tradition hampered US and Japanese efforts to re-build Japan as an active military power in the region. The Japanese were quite content to rest behind the shield of the US Seventh Fleet, and wielded their power through indirect means such as economic contributions, diplomacy and logistical support. Abe sensed that the Japanese public was not ready for the kind of direct military action required in Ogbomosho. Nonetheless, he did everything he could up to that point by directing the Japan Air Self Defence Force to assist in the transportation of the X-Com brigade to Nigeria. He also contacted his counterparts in India and Egypt, and arranged for the use of airfields in which the C-1 transports could refuel. Finally the Diet (the Japanese Parliament) would authorise the donation of 2 billion yen to set up a disaster fund for Nigeria after the crisis.

All of this was cold comfort to Iwata and Bradford, both of whom were beginning to intuit the magnitude of the disaster facing the Nigerians. The X-Com brigade was packed into C-1 transports shortly after the departure of the Skyrangers on 7 April 2016, and after two refuelling stops in India and Egypt, arrived in Ogbomosho late in the afternoon of 8 April 2016. In the end the forces trying to stave off the chryssalid breakout in Ogbomosho would amount to the soldiers of the Nigerian 2nd Division under Major-General LC Ilo, the UN brigade under Major-General Peter Van Doorn, and the X-Com brigade from Tanegashima under Colonel Bradford. 20000 soldiers, arriving in detail and composed of polyglot units speaking different languages and hailing from different cultures, would face off against a fast, armoured and deadly enemy that numbered perhaps 5000-10000 on the night of 7 April 2016, and over half a million on 8 April 2016.