Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Long War, Part XXVII - The New York Address

Esteemed representatives of the great planet Earth. I come before you today as a visitor, and ask for your indulgence. I am the Speaker. I speak for my kind, and while we have names, our names have no easy equivalent in your speech. Suffice to say that I belong to a Council of Elders, and I can speak for them. We have traveled across time and unimaginable distances to come to your world.

Many of you are undoubtedly wondering what our purpose is, and why we have come. We are part of a galactic coalition of intelligent species, and mankind has ascended sufficiently to join our ranks. It is our intention to impart the secrets of faster than light travel to your species, in order that mankind can join our confederation and take its next step towards a larger universe. Before we take such a step, however, we are obligated to ensure that your kind is worthy of such an ascension. Our obligation is twofold - we have a duty to our members to ensure that a warmongering, destructive species does not join our ranks. What we have seen upon your world has given us grave reservations. We also have a duty to mankind not to provide you with gifts that you are not adequately prepared to receive.

We have watched you for untold aeons, and when it was judged that Earth had the potential to produce a space faring species a barrier was built around your solar system designed to keep your kind from perceiving the galaxy as it truly was - a place teeming with life. You were never alone. We apologize for the deception, but it was a necessary step. The barrier screened our greater civilization from yours, so that you had the opportunity to develop free from our influence. Believing yourselves alone and masters of your own fate what kind of world would you carve out for yourselves? This is a test that is incumbent upon all developing civilizations. The barrier also served to protect you and keep your kind hidden, free from interference. Despite our best efforts there are still predatory civilizations that prowl the fringes of the galaxies, looking for worlds to devour or subjugate. We have found that only together can we resist the darkness that threatens to consume us all.

I must apologize if what I say causes you alarm, but I am bound by necessity. The barrier shrouding your world dissolved a few years ago, when the satellite Voyager I left the heliosphere and passed into interstellar space. Earth lies naked and exposed, visible for all to see. When Voyager passed the ancient markers left behind in the Oort Cloud it triggered a signal for the barrier's dissolution and for a message to be sent to us that mankind was ready to make contact with the greater galaxy beyond its borders. When your astronomers look again into the night sky they will find the unmistakable signs of other civilizations. Like it or not you are part of something much larger, and it is time for humanity to grow up, and discard the petty tribalism that has plagued its short history. You have in your hands the means to eliminate most of the suffering on your world, yet you concentrate your wealth and resources into the hands of a miserly few. You slaughter each other over the most trivial of distinctions, and sow division and discord where there should be trust and amity. Our first sallies for peace were mercilessly rebuffed by representatives of the UN, by the paramilitary unit known as X-Com. Our pilots and navigators were slaughtered and killed, and even now their bodies are kept in secret labs beneath the earth, the subjects of cruel tests and experiments. This will no longer be tolerated. You have been warned.

To show that we come in good faith we present you with several tokens. We will give you the technology to scrub your atmosphere, to reverse the accumulation of carbon gases that will soon choke your world and turn it into a seething hothouse. We will give you the means to cure the vast majority of afflictions and illnesses plaguing your world, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and HIV. We will impart the secrets of gene therapy, so that everyone will have the chance to maximize their potential - to live beyond the limits imposed by the lottery of genetics. We will provide you with cleaner, renewable sources of energy, and free nations from the tyranny of oil and those who control its supply. The solar system and its riches lies waiting, yet mankind squabbles over the Earth's diminishing resources, unable to look beyond a few petty years of its lifetime. Even now the nations of China, Japan and the US arm themselves in anticipation of a conflict that could devastate the world.

We will not force you into joining our coalition. For those who do, we will lay down several prerequisites, the chief being an adherence to the tenets that all humans are deserving of respect, dignity and freedom. In return we will grant those nations who join us the greatest gift of all - the secret of interstellar flight. The Free Nation of Syria is the first nation-state to join our coalition, and we re-affirm our commitment to their cause. We ask President Al-Assad to sit with us and negotiate a peace, so that the slaughter may end, and that millions of Syrians may return to their homes to rebuild their nation. President Hollande of France and President Poroshenko of the Ukraine have also expressed their wishes to join our coalition, which we have named ADVENT in honor of this momentous occasion. This truly is the advent of a new age for mankind, and we ask you all to embrace it. For those who choose not to join us the only consequence will be a slow fade into historical obscurity. We will not impose ourselves upon you. Mankind must ascend willingly, or not at all. For those who join us, however, we offer the riches of the solar system and beyond. Humanity was never meant to stay bound to one planet. Its destiny lies in the stars.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Long War, Part XXVI - The Speaker

Previous: The Long War, Part XXV - Hearts and Minds


On 26 August 2016 a ceasefire between all the belligerents in Syria (excluding jihadist factions) came into effectPutin, the consummate politician, agreed to the ceasefire in order to give the Russian military time to mobilize more forces into Syria. Al-Assad also used the time to concentrate his troops into the vicinity of Aleppo, where the government coalition was planning a mighty offensive to destroy the city. Despite the aliens' vaunted air superiority the technological gap between the two civilizations was not insuperable. X-Com had demonstrated time and time again that the aliens were vulnerable to terrestrial weapons on the ground, and even the alien fighters could be shot down on occasion. Absorbing this lesson, planners on the Syrian, Russian and Iranian side planned to adopt the doctrine of using cheap, expendable units to attrite the alien defenders of Aleppo. For now, however, Putin used the breathing space afforded by the ceasefire to re-organize his forces, as well as to seek diplomatic allies against the aliens. It would not be known until much after the war that Putin had tried to approach the aliens with a peace deal through back channels, only to be definitively rebuffed. While it was believed that it was the aliens' solidarity with the embattled rebels that caused them to reject the sallies out of hand, a more cynical interpretation was that Putin, due to his actions in the early 21st century, was well-placed to be the villain against whom the aliens could rally the rest of the world against. While popular at home, Putin's expansion into the Ukraine and Syria  earned him the ire and suspicion of Europeans and several Middle East nations. America and Russia were historical antagonists, and China had its own ambitions as a rising power in the 21st century. Any fall in Russian prestige was celebrated, albeit quietly in private state rooms and in the corridors of power. The greatest irony of this was that Russia had only signed on to the X-Com initiative as an act of political opportunism, but would later become its greatest supporter and champion due to the aliens' intractability in their dealings with the Russians.

On 8 September 2016 Emilia Amat Al-Maseeh, the new president of the Syrian National Council, addressed a special meeting of the United Nations at its headquarters in New York. The new leader of the Syrian opposition was accompanied by the alien emissary introduced by Al-Maseeh as the Speaker. The Speaker's presence generated tremendous international interest, momentarily dwarfing the unfolding crisis in the East China Sea. While Japan and China stared each other down across the straits dividing their nations, the rest of the world watched with awe and trepidation as a small UFO landed in the grounds of the UN headquarters. This was a historic moment, and it was covered in exquisite detail by the international press. X-Com was in attendance, and represented by General Bradford, Dr. Moira Vahlen and Chief Engineer Raymond Shen. Three Skyrangers full of X-Com troops were also on stand-by, ready to intervene on a moment's notice. They were an addendum to the already unprecedented level of security surrounding the arrival of the Speaker.

These security precautions proved to be unnecessary, however, as no incidents marred the event. The Speaker was a tall humanoid looking creature wearing an ornate metallic headdress and garbed in red, flowing robes. The alien had four atrophied limbs instead of two, but otherwise it looked very much like a tall, spindly human in appearance. The Speaker was supported by Al-Maseeh, and its fragile, decrepit walk towards the UN assembly hall gave the impression of great age and vulnerability. This was belied by the ceremonial honor guard accompanying the Speaker, which consisted of four gold armored floating humanoids. The archons, as they would later be known, were impressive specimens. They were superficially similar to the floaters in that they used some kind of anti-gravity mechanism to hover and fly, but unlike the floaters, who were a bizarre amalgamation of metal and biological flesh, these archons were elegant beings which inspired awe and wonder. They also appeared human, much to the surprise to all those present. They had human faces and torsos, and the honor guard appeared to consist of two male and two female archons. The archons were naked apart from their augmentations, and the sight of the bared breasts of the female archons caused a minor scandal. Human genitalia were either not present, or were covered by augmentations, much to the relief of those overly concerned with propriety. Nonetheless the human faces of the invaders served to disconcert and confuse observers. The most common comment heard when perceiving the archons for the first time was that "they look like angels." Certainly the physical attractiveness of the archons did much to give this impression, but many of those who were in close proximity attested to a feeling of reverence in the presence of these beings.

The honor guard remained outside while Al-Maseeh and the Speaker entered the UN headquarters. The archons were bombarded by photos, and a few of the more daring reporters reached out tentatively to touch them. The archons responded with graceful equanimity, and returned the gestures, even smiling gently at the awestruck faces crowded before them. "It felt like the sun on my face," gushed one reporter. "My God, he was beautiful." Inside the assembly hall Al-Maseeh was the first to address the UN, and her speech re-affirmed the Syrian rebellion's determination to oust Al-Assad from power. She cited the numerous human rights violations perpetrated by the regime as the rationale for the rebellion, and once again called upon the UN for assistance in their plight. The most remarkable part of her speech was her plea to the Syrian refugees who had fled the country, calling upon them to return:

"Thanks to the steadfast support of the Speaker and his kind we will finally see the dream of a free, democratic and peace-loving Syria. Everywhere we see nations turning a blind eye to to our suffering - nation after nation has closed their borders to us, and we have become a displaced people, with no place to call our home. Thousands of us live in squalor in camps and ghettos all over Europe and the Middle East, and everywhere we go we are met with fear and suspicion, accused of harboring terrorists in our midst. My dear brothers and sisters, it is time for us to return - to rebuild - to make Syria great again. The Speaker has guaranteed our freedom and liberty, and they have proven to be true allies in our time of need. They gave us food, medicine and weapons to fight our enemy. They cured us and helped us, and stood with us in harm's way when everyone else abandoned us. What a twist of irony it is that the most humane of all turned out not to be our human brothers and sisters, but visitors from beyond."

Al-Maseeh's address provoked a bitter response from the Syrian government diplomat, and harsh words were exchanged which required the intervention of UN security. After order was restored the Speaker ascended the podium with obvious difficulty, and had to be assisted by the Syrian opposition leader and the UN Secretary-General. The Speaker spoke in English, and indicated that alien technology could translate their speech into any language found on Earth, and vice versa. The Speaker spoke with the slightly metallic modulated voice of an elderly male, and the speech he would give would mark a paradigm shift in how humanity viewed the universe and its place within it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Long War, Part XXV - Hearts and Minds

Previous: The Long War, Part XXIV - Enter Chilong

Reversal in Syria

Al-Assad's stunning defeat by on the outskirts of Aleppo marked a stunning reversal of the fortunes of the Syrian rebels. Prior to the alien intervention Syrian government forces, aided by their Russian and Iranian allies, were slowly closing the noose around Aleppo. The rebels, abandoned by their American and Gulf nation allies, were doomed to inevitable defeat - the only question remaining was how long the collapse would take. Pounded by Russian air strikes and surrounded on all sides by Syrian and Iranian ground forces, the only strategy left to the rebels was to hold their ground, dig in, and hope for international intervention that would not be forthcoming.

The destruction of Aleppo was widely reported on international news, and garnered much public sympathy.

No one expected the aliens to intervene, and when they did they did so in a series of slashing and incisive counteroffensives that cut off Syrian troops and seized air superiority over the skies of Aleppo. By the end of July the Syrian offensive had all but stalled, once again opening a window for dialogues and a ceasefire. Furious at the loss of Russian prestige, Putin decided to redouble Russian efforts to crush the rebellion, and immediately gave the order for the deployment of further air and armor assets. Russian military analysts credited much of the aliens' success to their air superiority, but as X-Com and other nations had already demonstrated, the aliens were beatable on the ground. Even the new mechanical units deployed by the aliens around Aleppo were not invulnerable to conventional weapons. Guided weapons were still horribly vulnerable to alien countermeasures, but simple, brute force weapons like artillery, mortars and anti-tank guns could and did take a toll on alien mechanical units. Human forces also had the advantage of numbers - the alien deployment around Aleppo was the most significant demonstration of strength to date, but in terms of size they were no more than a single battalion - about 1000 mechanical units, both large and small, in total. The Russians alone had four to five times that number already in Syria, and could deploy a hundred times that number given time. In addition the Syrian government, along with their Iranian allies, also had the capacity to mobilize large reserves of men and equipment. Assad's four corner strategy in Syria - dispersing his forces across the country to forestall any kind of partition plan from the UN - required him to scatter his units all over the map. Given the symbolic significance Aleppo was gaining, Assad decided to temporarily abandon this strategy in favor of concentrating on the outskirts of Aleppo. For better or worse Aleppo was now a rallying point for the Syrian resistance, and the place where they would be making their last stand.

Aleppo - before and after the civil war that would devastate the nation and send its population fleeing into Europe.

The size of the alien deployment was deceptive, however, as their numbers were being bolstered by more and more EXALT troops. Each EXALT trooper exhibited signs of alien modification that went beyond the cosmetic. EXALT troopers never seemed to tire, could see in the dark, and were fearless in the face of the enemy. Some were documented in videos performing superhuman feats of strength and agility which strained credulity. As the situation in Aleppo became more and more desperate, more and more rebels and freshly radicalized Syrians began to join EXALT. Abandoned by their American allies, the rebels were faced with an impossible choice, and for most of them, the most rational one was to embrace EXALT. The most important aspect of EXALT was their ability to communicate and coordinate effectively with their compatriots across the map, along with their ability to coordinate with the aliens' air forces. The most senior members of EXALT seemed to have a direct line to the alien command, and requests for air support were promptly and decisively answered. More importantly, it was the aliens that kept the supply corridors open and allowed food, water, medicine and ammunition into the city. With the aliens keeping Russian fighters and bombers at bay, the resistance finally had a glimpse of something which they had lacked for a long time - the hope of victory.

The alien intervention in Syria also did much to alter the public's perception. Long feared and reviled in the public eye, the alien intervention garnered much goodwill among those who sympathized with the plight of the Syrian rebels. World opinion on Syria seemed to concur that something had to be done, but no nation or world organization had the political backing, will or capability to mount any kind of effective intervention. The UN once again displayed its ineffectiveness as a policing organization, being scuppered time and time again by Russian vetoes in the Security Council. Obama had once ordered American planes to intervene in Libya in 2011, but in the case of Syria in 2016 he assessed the public mood and the threat of getting into a shooting war with Russia as factors too large to ignore. NATO, Europe's foremost security organization, was paralyzed without the US, and could only watch impotently as Russia propped up Al-Assad's regime under the guise of attacking Islamic extremists. For months on end the world watched as Syria collapsed into a failed state, precipitating the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. It appeared that all the world could do was watch and offer its condolences until the aliens appeared. The alien intervention brought Putin's adventure in Syria to a temporary halt, and grateful Europeans, wary of Russian intentions on their doorsteps, reveled in Putin's discomfiture.

It was not only those that held anti-Russian sentiments that rejoiced. Human rights groups could not help but be impressed by EXALT's conduct in the refugee camps in Syria. Demonstrating a more secular and tolerant bent EXALT camps were becoming havens against the constant strife and turmoil, and international aid organizations as well as media were given free access in and out of the safe zones. The video footage that came back from the camps were a public relations victory for EXALT. This was in stark contrast to the disorganized chaos of the UN relief effort, which was dogged by accusations of incompetence and favoritism towards Al-Assad's forces. The biggest supporters of the aliens were the resistance fighters who directly benefited from the alien intervention. Initial misgivings about the aliens' mysterious conduct soon gave way to shrugged acceptance, even friendly camaraderie, at least on the part of the Syrians. Embracing wholeheartedly the adage that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", the rebels ignored the grotesque appearance of the floaters, and soon took to scrawling messages and graffiti on alien mechanical units which took their defacement with placid equanimity. Soon there was a plethora of photos and videos of rebel soldiers posing with mechanical units, some of which were adorned with hats, shemaghs, and other similar paraphernalia.

EXALT camps were clean, well-ordered and most importantly of all, safe.

This makeshift alliance soon gave way to real solidarity when alien forces saved rebel lives time and time again. EXALT camps provided the necessities of life and advanced medical care beyond anything previously seen on Earth. Wounds that were previously life-threatening or fatal became routine, and were treated as simply as one would apply a band-aid to a paper cut. The world watched with amazement and gratitude as several children amputees had their limbs regrown over a matter of days. Such life saving and life altering interventions had a profound effect on the rebels and their outlook towards the aliens, not to mention on corporations, governments and global cartels all hungry for the technology the aliens could offer. In late July 2016 a stronghold of Syrian rebels was subjected to numerous air strikes from Russian S-34s using conventional bombs. The garrison would have almost certainly be wiped out had an alien fighter not intervened and shot down two of the Russian jets. In the process the alien fighter went down in the sands outside Aleppo, and the grateful survivors from the rebel garrison immediately launched a rescue mission. Footage of rebel fighters carefully and gently carrying out the fallen sectoids from the wreck was circulated widely on news and social media. The sectoids were the size of small children, and their limp, dead bodies invoked a pathos that was undeniable. One sectoid, clearly stricken and near death, was cradled as tenderly as a baby by a rugged Syrian resistance fighter who had tears streaming down his beard. Another wounded sectoid was carried on piggyback out of the wreck, its oversized cranium resting on the back of another resistance fighter. The survivors were brought to Aleppo, where the sectoids became another public relations hit for the visitors. The sectoids could not speak, but they seemed to understand everything that was said around them, and resorted to communicating in a form of crude sign language. Footage of the sectoid interacting with several Syrian children also went viral, prompting questions about alien intentions and whether the UN had acted appropriately in forming X-Com earlier in the year.