"That sounds like a strange fucking dream!" Dabir shouted. The hum of the two jets were almost deafening as they started warming up to lift off. They were right next to each other, but it was almost impossible to hear anything over the afterburner racket. Microphones wouldn't have been any good either; the feedback would have deafened them.
"It was," Pure shouted back, feeling his vocal chords rebelling at the abuse. "Felt so real, and it was so long!"
"Well, as long as this war ends like that one!" Dabir bellowed, slapping Pure's knee. "Did it start the same way?"
"No," Pure replied, half to himself. Seeing Dabir hadn't heard him, he merely shook his head and returned to checking his equipment.
***Richard Fournier: 1st March 2015
I was on the first squad to be deployed when the pods started falling from the sky. It hadn't been a hard decision; I was the most well-rounded soldier at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, taught recruits there before the war started. My brother was on a tour of duty in South America when shit got stupid, so he was out of harm's way for a while. I'd call him later but he wasn't going to be near cities any time soon.
When the unmarked hummvees started rolling into the base, I got called up to the Major's office. I was a Captain in the regulars, but the Major told me that I was switching regiments to a new task force. I was eager to get underway on the surface, but I felt a twinge of anticipation gnaw at me as I got into the troop transport that whisked me away.
It took a few hours before we arrived at the base; I could tell we weren't in Quebec any more, there was a stronger smell of tree pollen in the air. I guessed (correctly, though I couldn't have known that at the time) that we were in America. Curious that I was then to go back to Montreal on the Skyranger.
The Skyranger was a remarkable aircraft. It looked like a Bell Osprey with two jet engines instead of propellers and the noise it made was incredible. Myself and five other soldiers loaded in, clad in lightweight gear: a kevlar helmet and vest were provided, and there was a small box that had been hurried onto the plane. Generally, gazes were avoided in those first few minutes. We had to trust each other but we didn't know each other. We barely knew if we would all speak the same language. I caught a glimpse of one of the others' flag markers, indicating one of my comrades was Argentinian. I found myself wondering how long in advance this project had been planned. We were all recruits in the eyes of this new power. XCOM, it called itself. It had been so long since I had worn gear marked for privates, but it was a new day.
We didn't talk much, there wasn't any point. We all had our earpieces and earplugs in and the sound of the jets outside the small cabin was intense. This left us with very little to do other than to check our weapons and ensure we understood our equipment. Things like that get forgotten on deployments. Yeah, sure, every rifle works the same, every frag grenade has a pin, but you don't wanna find out halfway through a firefight that some bastard's bent the pin and got it stuck just
off the catch.
Enduring Hammer was the name of the operation. We were to drop in near a site where there had been confirmed alien contact in large enough numbers that the organisation's notice was caught. Our objectives weren't too hard, simple search and destroy mission, really, but as we neared the city of Montreal, I could feel my heartbeat getting steadily faster and harder and a lump in my throat growing more and more persistent. Every so often, I would catch someone's eye and they would deign me a nod or a quick smile before returning to their rifle. I didn't know whether that was a reflection on me or my comrades.
When we landed, we all stood up at exactly the same time. We were a little startled by that, but we laughed it off. It somewhat broke the ice as the ramp lowered and we made our way out.
The weapons we were given were solid and dependable. I remember taking one apart shortly before we boarded the drop ship; it appeared to be a modified G36, but I couldn't have told you what it actually was. It chambered five-five-sixes, that was all I needed to know. Those things would stop in the first man it hit, brilliant energy transfer.
We were also given a pistol. I didn't know how useful it would be, especially with a main weapon locked and loaded, but it would be helpful the moment I ran out of rounds. At least, it would have.
We'd barely landed before we heard a strange, wet-sounding cackle. I had never heard anything like it. I couldn't have. They were aliens. Actual X-Files aliens. Goddamn Roswell greys.
And they were headed straight for us.
One of my squad, Dambuza, had the sense and quick thinking to run to the nearest pickup truck and fire off some shots.
It took less than ten seconds from first sight for the first alien to fall dead. His reflexes were astounding. I felt like this was suddenly a test of skill, I was being assessed. I expected this would be a force of the planet's best, but I didn't realise that it'd be like this. Dambuza looked back at us with a grin, waving at us to move up with him.
Nevertheless, the kill gave the rest of us some form of courage, some proof that the invaders weren't invincible, some hope of going home. We took cover as best as we could, next to cars and a JCB that had been parked for the morning. I merely followed their lead and took cover behind some crates covered by a blue tarpaulin.
The nearest soldier to me when we had all boots on the ground was a woman was a New Zealander by the flag on her back; the name tag on her undershirt read Sarah Martin, as I remember it from the base. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Sounds cliché and it was. Still, that's how she looked and what stood out about her on first observation.
By this point, I'd already moved forwards to cover. Sarah Martin moved and took shelter next to me.
Giving me a quick tap on the shoulder, she took position looking out across my blind side. Standard combat reassurance, someone's got my back. I felt safer already, and, I reasoned, a solder that feels safe is a soldier that can fight with less restraint. I'm not sure whether that was a genuine feeling or still some sort of delusion because I don't remember doing anything useful that mission.
The aliens had started work; I saw strange purple streams flying through the air, whipping and undulating, linking pairs of them. Feeling this could be nothing good, I turned back to watch what was going on.
They appeared to be concentrating on the nearest soldier first. Her name was Angela Hall, and she was crouched besides a car, the door held open as a shield to the front. Cover was such a blessing; the aliens' green shots hit the car and the soldier called to us, "I'm alright! Gonna move up, draw their fire, take the right flank!"
She dashed out from behind the car, running to a concrete barrier nearby that would offer more permanent cover. Two aliens fired at her as she ran, but neither hit her and she scrambled to a stop.
She fired a few bursts back in retaliation, but none of her bullets made their mark either.
This was to become a rather interesting theme for the rest of the war. Battles would often be unnecessarily prolonged because neither side could pinpoint the other. Our luck appeared to have run out with the very first kill we got, because for a good five minutes, neither side was doing anything to the other.
Suddenly, the Argentinian popped up next to another car and fired at one of the short grey bastards before it had a chance to duck behind cover. It was injured, but not dead, I think a couple of bullets had hit the car bonnet. Nevertheless, the alien doubled over in pain before instinctively straightening up again.
This was a fatal mistake.
The killing shot was placed so well that it threw the alien back a good four feet. A shout of laughter accompanied the burst fire. We were winning, and not inconsiderably.
After this, Sarah tapped my shoulder. I turned to see her moving for the crane. I followed suit, taking the opposite corner, peering round.
Over the next few weeks, we would come to recognise the signs that enemies were on overwatch: the initial duck back behind cover to check weapon, subsequent glances in every direction, disinterest in comrades' actions. Generally it occurred as a fellow alien was moving forwards; a guarantee of safety was important for both sides. It was surprisingly similar to what we did during training. I guess it was more of a surprise back then, I thought that they'd have been so different that their battlefield tactics would be unrecognisable. They were orderly, coordinated, just like we were. They had better weapons, but this was home turf for us.
No sooner had the thought of our advantage crossed my mind than we had taken our first hit. The Argentinian bore the brunt of a blast of the green shit. Plasma, the lab rats tell me, burnt a hole straight through his cheek and out the side of his face. He was lucky to have survived a direct blast, but it went straight through the soft tissue and the heat cauterised the wounds almost immediately. To his credit, he didn't panic. He barely screamed in pain: a grunt of irritation was all he allowed, and his combat effectiveness was not diminished for the rest of the mission. Absolutely rock-solid.
It did, however, foster a rather dangerous desire for revenge. Carlos Vargas was his name and he's still in hospital thanks to his actions in this firefight, but there was a file on him in the barracks. He was nicknamed Spriter in his old corps. Both parents were Portuguese, he'd been in the army since he was fifteen. Didn't even realise age discrepancies like that still existed. Apparently his old man fought in the Falklands with the British. Bet that didn't go down well with his government, but they took him on anyway and he proved to be the most proficient officer they had. He was a tough nut to crack, and the aliens were to understand why by the end of the battle.
Still, Vargas missed his first shot. Can't say I could blame him, he had
just been shot in the face. I caught a glimpse of him when he was moving, he looked like Aaron Eckhart off the Dark Knight halfway through the film. His cheekbone was the only thing stopping his eye falling out of its socket. He couldn't have been seeing very well through that.
We backed him up as best as we could. Dambuza also missed a shot and it was starting to look like it could get messy with three aliens that were probably pretty pissed off at us.
However, we still had a little time to reduce the danger. Angela managed to injure an alien crouching next to a car with a few well placed rounds.
Khamisi Boroto took a shot and finished it off. However, that still left the issue of the one that was almost flanking Carlos.
That was when Sarah popped round the side of the JCB and fuckin' planted the alien. Straight through the eyes.
That was when we noticed that as the aliens were landing, dead, their weapons were falling to pieces. We didn't know what that meant at first, but we it was better than leaving weapons around for us, I guess. Not a bad counterstrategy.
Carlos moved up next. He stopped in front of a taxi and examined one of the bodies that had been left behind by the weird pods. It was covered in a strange mucous. The civvie inside didn't look like they were dead, but they sure as hell weren't conscious.
Boroto moved up to Spriter and Hall moved up the construction site. Sarah was topping off her magazine surprisingly calmly, head down and barely breathing.
I ran up and called overwatch. I fancied I saw a hint of a roll of eyes from Sarah, but I didn't care. I could see everybody and I was in a decent spot.
"Hold it," Carlos muttered into my ear. I jumped. Luckily, my trigger finger was not in play at that point, I had completely forgotten we had earpieces. "I hear something," Carlos added.
"Need something for the road, friend?" I heard Boroto asking in his booming voice, sizing up a truck up ahead.
"Nah, you got point," Spriter grunted, "I'll be fine."
"My ass, but if you're sure."
"Someone else will need that medpack more than I will," Carlos insisted. "Get going."
"Got it, crazy man."
"Vai-te foder," Carlos muttered, half chuckling, as he moved besides his brother in arms, watching for movement.
Moving up was quiet for a good long while. We did it carefully, with one of us on Overwatch as everyone else moved. Carlos' grim determination bolstered us all.
Then he did something that would prove unfortunate.