Enemy Unknown, they’d told him. Sure, Gage Simpson had read the reports. Watched vids. He knew what they were up against, and what the stakes were. He’d even done some advanced sim training after his recent Squaddie promotion. Learned how to use smoke grenades. How to use med-spray to clean and patch up the blackened craters those goddamn plasma rounds carved into flesh. But that didn’t prepare you for a mission like this. Nothing could.
He’d killed two of them in Mexico City, shortly after First Contact. Smallish types, with big heads and slender limbs. He was so taken aback by their frail, diminutive appearance that he nearly caught a plasma bolt between the eyes. It took Romero instead, the poor bastard. Romero, the Texan with the easy smile and fucking delicious migas. Who sometimes half-playfully argued that perhaps the conflict with the Others was a cultural misunderstanding. Simpson had helped to carry the body back to the Skyranger after the AO was secured. He had noted with almost clinical detachment that the blast had fused Romero’s ruined helmet to what remained of his face.
Just a misunderstanding, Sal, he thought, even as he was shocked by his own callousness. Jesus.
The Others had evolved since then, though. Simpson kept hearing reports from the front lines of new forms. New breeds. Bigger guns. Claws, even. He’d seen what the little ones could do to a man. His stomach lurched when he imagined the horrors these new models could unleash. Mutons. Floaters. Zombies. Those terrifying Thin Men who came dressed like they just stepped off the fucking stock exchange. Those were the worst, to him. The almost-human-ness of them. All he wanted was to go home. Hug his mother, if she was even still alive. He couldn’t let the other guys know he was feeling skittish, but he knew they all felt the same way. Who wouldn’tbe scared of the monsters they were fighting? They were miles beyond any enemies he had ever been trained to fight in the National Guard. ‘Bastards from overseas’ was slightly more palatable than ‘bastards from another planet.’ There was no shame in being terrified of the Others. And everyone was terrified. He could see it everywhere. The way Williams shifted in her rack every thirty seconds all night long. The look on Lt. Hasting’s face after he knocked the salt shaker over in the mess hall two weeks ago. Hell, it was in the smell of the locker room. Fear. Apprehension. But there was no choice, no running. They had to fight. There was nowhere else to go.
“Strike One, this is Big Sky. Three minutes to landing. Knuckle up.”
Simpson opened his eyes for the first time in an hour. Not that there was much to look at. He and Sergeant Dominguez were alone in the personnel area of the Skyranger. Dominguez was sitting directly across from him and looking at him levelly.
“You gonna be okay out there, little dog?”
“Roll with it. Answer my fuckin’ question.”
Simpson gripped the stock of his assault rifle with a conviction he didn’t truly feel. “Hell yes. We’re gonna hit the bastards where it hurts.”
Dominguez’s thick black mustache twitched. “Don’t give me that rook bullshit if you don’t mean it. Have the respect to give me a real goddamn conversation. How fuckin’ old are you, anyway? You don’t look a day over fifteen.”
“Fuck you, Sarge.”
“I’m serious, kid.”
Dominguez sucked air through his teeth. “Christ, kid, I’m old enough to be your dad. Probably am, if the stories I’ve heard about your mother are any indication.”
“At the risk of repeating myself, ‘fuck you, Sarge.’”
“That’s ‘fuck you, Sarge sir.”
Things had been going okay in the fight against the Others. They really had. A few minor victories. A downed UFO. Xcom had picked up a Chinese defector who had key intel on the movements of the Others. Hell, his intel was the reason Simpson was here this morning and not back at headquarters. But then everything had gone tits-up.
Usually, it worked to Xcom’s benefit that the Others were slow to strike. Missions typically ended with at least one KIA and multiple wounded, so it was good to have a little time to recover between operations. Hire some new recruits, give the vets some time to lick their wounds. Mourn the dead. Just to be safe, there were always a couple of squads rotating through operations, giving the rookies a taste of combat. Usually this worked. Until last week.
It had started with the interceptors splashing a UFO. Victory cheers in the barracks had quickly turned to solemn preparations as everyone awaited word from above on who would be riding out to mop up the mess. Four boarded the Skyranger to Africa. Three returned. Gustav lost his leg to a burn from a floater’s jetpack fuel. Fieri lost his life. Williams sustained a subdural hemorrhage in a tussle with a muton. Kennedy fractured three vertebrae and suffered some nerve damage when the tree he was taking cover behind exploded. It would be a while before he would walk again. Simpson had tried to make conversation with him the day after, but Kennedy wouldn’t look at him. Simpson set a soda down in front of him and left.
Then, not even two days later, the Others struck again. Coordinated abductions in Belize, Oslo, Melbourne. Of course Xcom couldn’t respond to all of them. Command made a choice: Oslo. Fuck you, southern hemisphere. Simpson was sure he’d be called up to go, just as he knew that he would be dead before the mission was done. But he wasn’t called. Zhang, Dwyer, Hudson, and Rooney were. Only Zhang and Dwyer came back. Dwyer looked to be missing an eye, but it was hard to tell with all the burned tissue. Zhang was unconscious. Simpson didn’t ask the medics why.
The barracks were quiet the next day. The bulletin board claimed that R&D was working on some new tech - a laser weapon of some sort - and that they’d be passing it down within a couple of days. Simpson supposed this was good news, but it didn’t matter at the moment. So he had pissed around for most of the morning, cleaned his gun twice, and gone for a run. He briefly considered going to the infirmary to check in on his comrades, but decided he didn’t need to see any more blood than absolutely necessary. Instead, he went to the mess around noon and was just sitting down with a plate when Sergeant Christiano “Ocho” Dominguez came in. Simpson didn’t really know Dominguez, but he supposed he was a decent enough fellow. Kept to himself, mostly, and could usually be seen cleaning his LMG with something dangerously akin to love in his eyes. He’d seen some shit, Simpson knew that much. Simpson motioned Dominguez toward an adjacent seat, then suddenly realized with a shock that Dominguez was the first person he had seen all day. Any further thoughts on the subject were interrupted as Central Officer Bradford breezed quietly through the door, wearing his usual tweedy shirt-tie-sweater combination.
“A-TEN HUT!” Dominguez shouted, executing a sharp salute. Simpson mirrored the maneuver an instant later, somehow managing not to upset his plate in his haste to get out of his seat.
Bradford waved a hand at them dismissively. “At ease, gentlemen, we haven’t got much time.”
Dominguez sauntered over to a chair near Bradford and sat down, crossing his legs. “What’s the word, C.O.?”
Bradford looked coolly at both men. Simpson felt his stomach drop. His appetite had gone AWOL. Simpson wished he could follow suit.
“The mission is in China. Or, I should say, over China.” Bradford paused, scanning the men’s faces for a reaction. Seeing none, he continued. “As you know, we’ve been working to isolate a single alien gunship from the fleet. We have reason to believe that it is carrying alien materials of great value. Materials which could turn the tide of this war in our favor. Today, we have succeeded in isolating said ship in the skies over Hong Kong.”
“Great, send in the Interceptors,” Dominguez commented with the barest hint of a smile. “We’ll bat clean-up.”
Bradford sighed as though he had been expecting such a response. “I’m afraid it isn’t that simple, Sergeant. This ship is nearly a kilometer long and has defenses we don’t fully understand. We have determined that the only way to bring it down is from the inside. Besides, we must ensure that whatever technology resides within remains as intact as possible.” He smiled wanly. “Missiles are not helpful in that regard.”
Dominguez smirked again, though the steely edge in his gaze told a slightly different story. “Even better. Who’s the team?”
Bradford looked impassively from Dominguez to Simpson, then back to Dominguez. He didn’t respond. Dominguez’s smile disappeared.
Simpson grasped the implication as he simultaneously realized that his jaw felt very heavy. “Fuck no. You can’t be serious.”
“I’m quite serious.”
“But there are only two of us! That’s fucking suicide!”
Bradford’s gaze met his, then faltered momentarily and dropped to the floor. When he raised his eyes again, they were resolute and without a trace of doubt. His voice was as cold as the stone walls which surrounded them. “Stow it, soldier. We have no choice. You’ve seen what they’ve been doing to us out there. We’ve lost men - good men - and we’ve got more wounded in the infirmary than I’d like. You two are the only combat-ready soldiers we have. Reinforcements are incoming, but they won’t arrive until tomorrow.” He shoved a finger at Simpson’s chest. “If I had any choice in this, you’d better believe that I’d send twenty men, and they certainly wouldn’t be Squaddies like you. But this can’t wait, and we’ve got nobody else. So I suggest you act like the soldier you are, gear up, and get your ass on that Skyranger.”
Simpson watched as Dominguez stood, slowly, and took two carefully measured steps toward Bradford. Dominguez towered over the man by at least a foot. Glaring directly down at the C.O., he raised his hand in a slow and deliberate salute, held it for several defiant seconds, then turned on his heel and strode toward the armory. Simpson watched him go, then brushed past Bradford and followed Dominguez.
Simpson turned slowly to face the man who had just written his death sentence, working to keep his face passive. “Yes, sir.”
“I’m sorry. We do what we can with what we have.”
And so here Simpson was, one of two knights-errant riding a flying steed into an enemy kingdom. One where there would be no quarter given.
“This is Big Sky. One minute to touchdown, Strike One. Hope you brought your balls to the big game.”
Simpson opened his eyes to find himself once more meeting Dominguez’s dark gaze. Dominguez said nothing. Simpson felt awkward; he felt the need to fill the silence with some attempt at conversation.
“Got kids, Ocho?”
Dominguez’s eyes flashed. “I do. Or did. I’m from Belize.”
Belize. “Jesus, Sarge. I’m… I’m sorry. Have you heard anything? Maybe they… I don’t know…”
Dominguez laughed a joyless laugh. “No, I haven’t heard nothing. Not only does your boss decide to save a different city instead of your home - a city on the other side of the fuckin’ planet - but there’s been no word out of Belize since. It’s like it’s been wiped out.”
Simpson shifted uncomfortably. “You can’t know that.”
“You’re right, I can’t. But I fuckin’ do. You wanna know the worst part? I’m pretty sure they made the right decision. Maybe I would’ve made the same one, in their place. And now they send me on this suicide run with only a fuckin’ Squaddie to watch my back. No offense, little dog, you seem like a good guy. I just hope you can shoot worth shit.”
Simpson looked down at his gun. It felt unnatural in his hands. I hope so too, for both our sakes, he thought.
“Strike one, ten seconds to touchdown.”
“Party’s starting,” Dominguez said, hoisting his machine gun into the ready position and aiming it toward the rear hatch. “Let’s not keep our hosts waiting.”
There wasn’t time to watch their ride lift off. Between the howl of the wind rushing over the deck of the hulking alien ship on which they now stood and the incomprehensible orders which Bradford was droning into their earpieces, both men were briefly overwhelmed by sensory input. As they rushed to take shelter by the door immediately ahead, Dominguez was the first to regain his composure.
“Yes sir, now go burn that fuckin’ GODAWFUL sweater,” Dominguez shouted into his microphone.
“Negative copy, Strike One, say again?”
“REPEAT, I SAID YES SIR, WE HAVE A SOLID COPY, OVER.” Dominguez flashed a quick grin at Simpson.
Simpson returned the smile with a curt nod. “What did he say? I didn’t copy.”
“There are six power conduits somewhere inside this fucker. We can either shut ‘em down manually or blow ‘em the fuck up. I’d suggest the second option, but I’ve only got two rockets and a grenade.” Dominguez shrugged, then gestured toward the door. “You ready? By the numbers, little dog. Cover me.”
Simpson leaned against the doorframe, which was eerily cold and composed of an alloy unlike anything he’d ever seen before. He readied his weapon, blinking as the familiar targeting system appeared on his retinal HUD. A red
NO TARGETS AVAILABLE
was the only information currently displayed. “Roger, I’ve got my eyes on.”
“Hell yeah, you do.” Dominguez reached forward and touched the center of the door, which appeared to be made of pure blue energy. A disturbance rippled outward from his fingers’ point of contact and the door suddenly vanished.
Jesus, Simpson thought. These bastards are the Jetsons.
“Hey! Little dog!” Dominguez snapped at him. “It’s a fuckin’ door. Stay sharp or we’re both fuckin’ dead, comprendé?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry.”
Dominguez rolled smoothly off of his position near the door and sprinted forward, breaking left and taking cover behind a console made of the same strange alloy as the doorframe. He motioned for Simpson to move up to a similar structure to the right of the door. Simpson complied.
Simpson found himself in a cavernous room with multiple levels. It wasn’t necessarily the height of the ceiling that made it so, but the length. Simpson ventured a glance over the top of his cover and found that he could not see the other end of the room. Looking to his left and right, he saw that the entire structure was composed of the alloy he had previously noted, with small indicator lights scattered intermittently throughout. The effect was inherently and undeniably alien, evoking images of stars in the night sky. He had never seen anything like it.
Dominguez was not as impressed by the view as Simpson was. Moving with surprising grace for his size and the bulk of his gear, he moved forward toward a railing which appeared to overlook the room ahead. As he reached the railing, he craned his head and peered over the edge. Although Simpson couldn’t see what was below from his current vantage point, he could tell immediately from Dominguez’s body language that he had spotted resistance.
“Two Thin Men. They’ve seen me and are moving to cover. You stay put.”
Simpson’s heart stopped briefly at the thought of facing Thin Men in person. Dominguez stood and readied his weapon, aiming it down and to the left. He let loose a short burst, the sound deafening as it ricocheted off the metal walls, and then dropped back down into cover below the railing. Three plasma bolts came screaming in from the right, nearly skimming the top of his head. “I got one of the fuckers,” he exclaimed breathlessly to Simpson, his eyes shining with adrenaline. “I’m gonna try for the other. You keep your eyes peeled in case he tries to flank us.”
Simpson turned to face the hallway to the right, his heart beating like a triphammer. “Roger, scanning,” he murmured. He heard gunfire erupt to his left, followed by an expletive. Dominguez had missed, apparently.
“COMIN’ UP THE RIGHT!”
Simpson almost froze with fear and indecision. Instead, he stood up from behind his cover, bringing his weapon to bear just in time to see a Thin Man round the corner and run directly into his sights with its unsettling green eyes fixed greedily on Dominguez’s flank. He checked his retinal HUD.
100% CHANCE TO HIT
Bastard didn’t even know I was here, Simpson thought smugly to himself as he pulled the trigger. His assault rifle barked satisfyingly and the Thin Man’s head exploded in a spray of flesh and toxic green mist. “Tango down,” he called to Dominguez.
“Roger that, little dog, thanks for the cover. But I think we got more company headed our way. I can hear them moving around out there.”
Bradford was suddenly lecturing into the men’s earpieces. “Gentlemen, we’ve just received intel that you have additional bogeys inbound. Stay alert.”
“Thanks for the tip, boss,” Dominguez chuckled as he moved forward to the railing. “Very current and oh-so-useful.” He switched the headset’s long-range communicator off, silencing Bradford permanently. Simpson gave him a questioning look, then followed suit. Dominguez was right; he’d be damned if the last thing he heard in this world was Bradford’s reedy voice calling out bogeys.
As they peered over the railing once more, they saw a lone Thin Man attempting to move on their position from two stories below. Standing together, they opened fire on the target simultaneously. Simpson was dismayed to see his shot go wide while Dominguez’s connected and rapidly shredded the alien’s thin skin.
“Can’t clean up all of your messes, little dog,” Dominguez jeered.
“Yeah, yeah, yuk it up, big guy.” Something on the floor below caught his eye. He squinted as he looked at a brightly glowing device near the downed Thin Man. “Hey, is that one of our conduits?”
Dominguez looked toward the indicated position, then consulted the PDA on his wrist. “Roger that, little dog. Reckon we oughtta shut it down?”
Simpson checked his rifle’s ammo counter on the retinal HUD. Nearly dry. The indicator for Dominguez’s weapon was even lower. “Reload first. I’ll cover you,” he responded as he rested the barrel of his assault rifle on the railing. He scanned the battlefield ahead carefully while Dominguez stripped the clip from his own weapon. Hardly aware it was happening, Simpson felt his arm move and his sights narrow while his trigger finger twitched. BRAKKA-BRAKKA. He blinked and found himself staring down the sights at another dead Thin Man.
“Oh, you’re in the zone now, little dog!” Dominguez had moved to his position and was patting him on the shoulder.
Simpson began to reload. “Thanks. What do you say we shut down that conduit?”
“Amen, my friend.”
Less than a minute later, they were standing next to the device in question. The conduit was as tall as a man, emitting a bright blue light and thrumming with a low energy Simpson could feel in his teeth. It appeared to be host to a tremendous amount of power. He knelt by it while Dominguez kept watch. Spying a piece roughly the size of his forearm which appeared to be both removable and made of glass, he acted on instinct and reached for it.
“Nonono, don’t,” Dominguez hissed at him.
Simpson ignored the warning and yanked the piece free. The conduit immediately went dark. He held the piece up for Dominguez to see. “Is that…?”
“That’s a goddamn fuse!” Dominguez gaped at the glass cylinder. “Let me see that.”
Taking the fuse from Simpson, Dominguez placed it on the ground, raised his weapon, and smashed the stock against the middle of the cylinder. With a sharp pop like a fluorescent bulb being broken, the fuse shattered. Dominguez chuckled. “Fuckin’ aliens with their huge-ass ships and plasma rifles, and they’re still using fuses like I got in my fuckin’ car. Un-fuckin’ believable.” He continued to smile for a moment, then looked abruptly solemn. He gazed at the floor, then locked eyes with Simpson. “Five left. We might just make it through this after all, little dog.”
Proceeding with renewed vigor, the two men made short work of a chryssalid which had hoped to eviscerate Simpson as he rounded a corner ahead. It was a close call; Dominguez’s hollow-point rounds only finished off the monster when it was straddling Simpson, its slavering jaws mere inches from his face.
Dominguez reached down to help Simpson up off of the floor. “You’re gonna owe me pretty big when this is all said and done, little dog.”
Reaching for Dominguez’s hand, Simpson scoffed in spite of feeling like he was about to vomit. “Yeah, I’ll buy you a beer. Treat me right and you might get two.”
“You’re doing good, kid. Just try not to piss yourself. We’re gonna finish this.”
Simpson swallowed hard, nodded, and pressed forward, his feet only obeying him through sheer force of will.
Dominguez took elevated ground ahead while Simpson stayed below. They could see two Thin Men and a muton standing guard by the conduit in front of them. They opened fire on the muton simultaneously, tearing huge, bleeding holes through the brute’s face and chest plate. One eye was torn wholly from its socket and lay dangling by a meaty thread in front of the thing’s ruined face. Yet, still, it remained upright, swinging its massive plasma rifle toward Simpson’s location. Simpson froze, paralyzed by the certainty of what was about to happen.
“KID, GET DO-” Dominguez shouted before being abruptly choked off by a series of hacking coughs.
Simpson tried to duck back behind the wall, but it was too late. He screamed as he felt hot plasma punch through the meat of his left thigh and another round burn his shoulder, instantly blistering the skin. The pain was unreal. It consumed him completely. He thought briefly of the time when, as a child, he had accidentally burned the palm his hand by reaching on top of a hot stovetop. Another wave of pain drove this thought, screaming, from his mind entirely.
Distantly, he heard an explosion, followed by more winded coughing.
“KID, YOU’VE GOTTA GET UP, HE’S COMING YOUR WAY!”
The words sparked something in Simpson’s brain. He couldn’t just lay down and die here; he had work to do. It would occur to him later that this very instinct of self-preservation was the sole reason the human race was alive at all: without it, the species would have succumbed long before the Others ever arrived to dominate Mankind. He stood, balancing awkwardly on his right leg, and turned to face the advancing muton. He unconsciously consulted his retinal HUD.
95% CHANCE TO HIT
The beast paused, puzzled by its quarry’s tenacity. It cocked its head to one side like a dog as it raised its weapon, but it was too late. Simpson’s rifle roared, and both he and the monster collapsed to the floor.
“KID! LITTLE DOG!” Dominguez shouted, before relapsing into another great coughing fit. Simpson could hear boots pounding across the floor toward him and raised his head to look at Dominguez kneeling next to him.
“Sarge, that fucking hurt.”
Dominguez smiled weakly at him. “I know, little dog, I know. That’s why you gotta patch yourself up. Here, hand me your medkit.”
Dominguez grabbed Simpson’s hand and pressed it around the pistol grip of the med-spray gun, guiding it toward Simpson’s badly damaged thigh. He squeezed the trigger.
The icy bio-foam being hosed into the fresh burn wound was agony. Simpson convulsed and thrashed on the hard metal floor, barely suppressing a scream. For a moment, he thought he might pass out. Just when he thought the pain would never relent, the anesthetics began to take hold and he felt himself relaxing. Dominguez guided his hand toward the burn on his shoulder and applied more foam there.
“You never told me about your- ouch- kids.”
Dominguez paused in the application of the foam. His eyes turned inward, briefly. Then he was back. “No, I guess I didn’t. Got twin daughters, Rosa and Lupé. They’re sixteen. Their quinceañera was the most fuckin’ expensive thing I’ve ever paid for. Got a son, too. Sebastian. His college education was the second most expensive.”
“How old is he?”
“Oh, right about your age. I told you I’m old enough to be your fuckin’ dad. Woulda been, too, but-”
“But a dog beat you over the fence. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that one before.”
The med-spray gun beeped and the indicator light turned red. Empty. Dominguez tossed the gun aside and then collapsed onto his hands and knees as his whole body was wracked by fits of great, wheezing coughs.
“Sarge, you alright?”
Dominguez stood, wheezing, and reached down once more to help Simpson to his feet. “I’m fine, little dog… just fine.”
One look at Dominguez’s pale face and red eyes told Simpson otherwise. “No you’re not, Sarge. Are you hurt?”
The truth hit Simpson hard and fast. “One of those thin fuckers poisoned you, didn’t they? Then why did you use the med-spray-”
“Because fuck you, that’s why. Now can we finish twenty questions and get on with the mission, please?”
“Jesus, Sarge, I wouldn’t have-”
Dominguez’s voice faltered for a brief instant. “I know you wouldn’t have, and that’s why I didn’t give you a fuckin’ choice. Now let’s get going. I still want to be able to breathe when we board that Skyranger home.”
The two men paused to reload their weapons, then moved up to the conduit. Or what remained of it, anyway. The conduit lay in a smoking wreck; nearby lay the mutilated corpses of two thin men. Simpson remembered the explosion he had heard just after getting shot.
“Nice toss, Sarge.”
Dominguez nodded again. Simpson supposed the poison made it difficult to speak. His heart suddenly felt heavy in his chest.
“Come on, Sarge. Let’s go.”
The men pressed forward. Simpson’s left leg barely worked, and his arm felt like it was actively burning, but he was more worried about Dominguez. The man was barely able to carry his machine gun, and his breathing sounded more labored by the minute. By the time they reached the next door, Simpson was beginning to wonder if Dominguez was going to remain on his feet much longer.
“Need to take a breather, Sarge?”
“Negative, little dog. I’m ready. Just… just keep going.”
With both men in their breaching positions, Simpson reached out and touched the center of the door. Everything beyond appeared to be quiet; it wasn’t until Dominguez’s gun erupted next to him that he saw the danger ahead.
The cyberdisk looked like the classic depictions of UFOs in sci-fi movies from the fifties. A gleaming alloy disc, impossibly reflective and completely silent, hovering ten feet off the ground, the cyberdisk’s benign appearance belied the deadly machinery within. This one was hovering roughly twenty meters away, toward the back of the room. But Simpson knew how quickly they could move, and knew that he and Dominguez wouldn’t be safe at their current position for long. Dominguez’s bullet swarm had slammed into the device, skewing it sideways, but failed to do significant damage. Simpson raised his own weapon and peered down the scope.
76% CHANCE TO HIT
Acceptable. He squeezed the trigger and watched, first with satisfaction and then with disappointment, as his rounds connected but failed to do much beyond scratch the surface of the machine. The cyberdisk began to move toward their position. Simpson ducked back behind cover just in time to dodge incoming plasma fire from a Thin Man he hadn’t even noticed. He locked eyes with Dominguez on the other side of the doorway. He was shocked to see that a single tear was tracing its way down Dominguez’s cheek.
“Run, little dog.”
“Come on, Sarge, we can kill it.”
“I said RUN!”
Dominguez reached for the rocket launcher slung across his back, and Simpson’s eyes went wide. He knew exactly what Dominguez intended to do. The searing pain in his left leg momentarily forgotten, he turned his back to the doorway and sprinted down the hall. He dove for cover behind a console when he heard the familiar WHOOSH of the rocket’s launch.
Simpson recognized the detonation of the Shredder rocket, a brutal variant on the traditional RPG that packed viciously sharp shrapnel into the rocket’s warhead. Anything in that room was certainly either dead or bleeding to death. He ventured a look over his cover.
He was about fifteen meters from the doorway. Dominguez was still standing. That was good. He was busy reloading the launcher with his spare rocket. Beyond Dominguez, the room was a wreck. He could see the smoldering hulk of another conduit, and a green puddle that might have once been the Thin Man that had fired on him.
The cyberdisk rose from under a piece of rubble and began hovering toward the doorway. It was sparking furiously and several pieces of its paneling had been blown off, but it appeared to be in full working order.
Dominguez looked up, saw the cyberdisk, and returned his focus to reloading the rocket launcher. He was overcome by another round of coughs, slowing his progress. The cyberdisk passed through the doorway and stopped directly in front of Dominguez, not five feet away. Simpson raised his weapon once more. Before he could fire, the machine began to transform.
The cyberdisk split as its middle opened like a mouth, then flipped around while various evil-looking spiked appendages and insectile antennae emerged from its insides. The change was sudden and disorienting, The cyberdisk spun once more and brought its main weapon to bear on Dominguez: a cannon the size of a man’s leg. Simpson had no time to react; the machine was impossible to track during transformation. Dominguez finished reloading and looked up just in time to stare down the cannon’s barrel.
The cyberdisk opened fire.
Dominguez’s armor appeared to absorb the first cannon blast; it ablated the energy away exactly as intended. The second two tore through his abdomen. Simpson watched as the massive rounds passed through Dominguez’s midsection and destroyed the console behind him. Dominguez collapsed to his knees and vomited blood. The puddle looked black against the reflective floor.
“SAAARGE!” Simpson ran forward, heedless of cover, and shouldered his weapon.
45% CHANCE TO HIT
Simpson fired. The rifle jerked left as his injured leg buckled beneath him and the shot flew wide, ricocheting off the alloy walls. “FUCK!”
He saw movement. Dominguez was back up on his knees, trembling furiously, and was pointing the rocket launcher at the cyberdisk in front of him. He looked toward Simpson. Simpson could hear the cyberdisk’s main cannon spooling up to fire. He thought he saw Dominguez wink.
“You got this, little dog.”
Then the world exploded.
Simpson was thrown backward violently by the blast. He smashed into the unforgiving metal floor and cracked his head sharply. He saw stars and nearly blacked out.
Simpson fought to regain his senses, and struggled to sit up. His right ear felt… quiet. He reached up to touch it and felt a ragged stump. His hand came away bloody.
Well, that’s just great.
He stood, his weakened left leg almost collapsing beneath him, and lurched toward the detonation site. There was nothing left but wreckage. He dropped to his knees and began to dig through the rubble, needing to believe that Dominguez had somehow survived the blast. He dug until his fingers were raw and covered in cuts from the shrapnel. It wasn’t until he found a piece of the cyberdisk’s plating, still immaculately reflective save for the large streak of blood near its edge, that he realized he was weeping.
The wreckage of that fucking machine is still recognizable, but all that’s left of my friend is a red smear? Real fucking fair.
He sat for what seemed to be an eternity, cradling the odd piece of wreckage that was at once killer and victim. He hurt everywhere. Head, ear, leg, arm… listing what didn’t hurt would have been a simpler task. There was no way he could finish the mission. There was too much to do, and he was all alone. Just a fucking Squaddie, to boot. He still got shoe shine duty at the barracks, for Christ’s sake.
Get the fuck up, little dog. Quit feeling sorry for yourself.
He started at the voice from his headset, but then renewed his weeping. He knew what this was. His brain was responding to trauma by conjuring the voice of his dead friend. It wasn’t Dominguez’s spirit or any bullshit like that.
It doesn’t matter what the fuck this is. This could be the Ghost of Christmas Past. Doesn’t change things. You’ve got work to do. So get your ass up and finish the fuckin’ job.
“Fuck you, Sarge,” Simpson mumbled, wiping his face.
That’s ‘fuck you, Sarge SIR.’
Simpson stood up, slipping the piece of bloodied cyberdisk into the pocket of his fatigues.
You ready? By the numbers, little dog.
Simpson took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway. This room looked, arguably, worse than the last. Two Thin Men and the conduit had been caught in the blast of Dominguez’s first rocket. This area was toast.
Three more conduits, kid. You’ve got this.
“Thanks, Sarge, but I can count.”
Bullshit you can.
He pressed himself against the wall and moved toward the corner of the wall to his right, seeking a vantage point on the hallway ahead. One lone sectoid saw him and scrambled for cover, but his assault rifle made short work of the tiny creature. He pushed forward, cautiously, and encountered no resistance as he pulled and smashed the fuse, deactivating the fourth conduit. He felt the entire ship shudder, and heard an alarm activate several floors below. He paid little attention.
One more door. He moved to it and performed the now-familiar opening ritual. The door led back to the deck of the gunship. The wind howled and screamed at him, as though it was as disturbed as he by the day’s events. A single Thin Man stood guard on the walkway ahead. Simpson took actual pleasure in watching the bastard’s face explode.
Two conduits - the final conduits - were ahead, and Simpson realized that only now, for the first time, did he believe that he would survive this mission.
Yeah, did it all by yourself, didn’t you, little dog?
“Fuck you, Sarge, I’ll give you a footnote in the debrief.”
He moved forward cautiously, but still managed to attract the attention of a muton on the opposite walkway. The muton lunged for nearby cover. It would keep its head down for now, but would be firing on him soon if he didn’t do something.
Careful kid, he’ll fuck you up.
Simpson knew that mutons were elite soldiers and crack shots. Hell, all he had to do was look at his own damaged body to confirm that assessment. He also knew that he wouldn’t stand up to another barrage from a plasma rifle. He needed an edge if he was going to survive this. His tired brain scrambled for a solution but came up blank.
What’s on your belt, kid?
Of course. Smoke grenades. All he had to do was obscure himself a bit. Simpson had read somewhere in the autopsy notes that mutons were colorblind; a simple diversion like this smoke grenade could throw off the alien’s aim enough to save his life.
Simpson pulled the pin and dropped the grenade at his own feet. It immediately began to discharge a thick cloud of purple smoke. The muton roared with frustration and fired several rounds in Simpson’s direction. None connected, but one destroyed a piece of floor paneling six inches from his hand. Too close.
Simpson stood, his retinal HUD showing him the outline of his enemy through the smoke. He fired and his shot connected, blowing off the muton’s chestpiece. With its armor gone, the creature’s thick but fleshy chest was exposed. An easy target. Simpson dodged the return volley of plasma, repositioned, and took aim one final time.
100% CHANCE TO HIT
Anti-personnel rounds ripped through the muton’s chest, creating exit wounds the size of oranges. The brute folded in on itself and burbled its last through a throat full of its own blood.
You did it, little dog.
“We did it, Sarge,” Simpson said aloud as he smashed a fuse and the fifth conduit went dark. The ship was beginning to list dramatically to one side now, tilting the entire deck, and the alarm was much louder.
Aren’t you forgetting something, rook?
“Oh, yeah, extraction,” Simpson muttered as he reached to switch his long-range communicator back on.
“Big Sky, this is Strike One, requesting extraction.”
“Roger, Strike One. This is Big Sky. Locked on your location. Touchdown in twenty seconds. Good to hear from you.”
Bradford’s voice abruptly cut through the chatter. “Simpson? Is that you? Where the hell have you been? Where’s Dominguez? You dropped off the grid over forty-five minutes ago and we’ve been blind up here! I hope you’ve got a good explanation. Was the mission a success?”
Do me a favor, little dog? Tell him how much I hated that fuckin’ sweater.
Simpson shaded his eyes against the sun as he watched the Skyranger descend to hover near his location. He limped over to the sixth and final conduit, pausing just before reaching in to pull the fuse.
“Bradford? I have a message from Dominguez.”
“I’m listening, soldier.”
“Burn that fucking sweater.”
Simpson pulled the fuse and switched off his long-range communicator. He limped quickly to the Skyranger as he felt the massive gunship begin to shut down beneath him. He stepped onto the loading ramp, walked inside and collapsed into his seat while the hatch closed behind him. He paused thoughtfully for a moment, then removed the piece of cyberdisk from his pocket and placed it carefully in Dominguez’s empty seat.
“Thank you, Sarge. For everything.” He reached for his earpiece. “Big Sky? This is Strike One. Two on board for extraction. Take us home.”
Pseudoscientific naturalism is no substitute for evidence-based practice. Yes, birth is a natural process. Also, in its natural state, it kills thousands upon thousands of mothers and children. I would compare it to having an appendix. Sure, an appendix is a natural thing to have, and in many cases they are free of complications. But in some circumstances appendices go bad. If a non-‘natural’ intervention is not made, then a person with appendicitis will die. Plain and simple.
Many of the claims in that blasted documentary (and the claims of its followers) are simply untrue or, at best, misleading. For starters, the assertion that Pitocin and oxytocin are two different things. Or (and this one is incredibly offensive) the notion that C-sectioned babies and their mothers will never truly bond in the way that a vaginally-birthed child and its mother could. Sickening.
Finally, labor and delivery is not about the ‘experience’ or ‘empowerment’ or any of that other stuff. It is about a healthy mother and a healthy baby. The end. The positivity of the experience is icing on the cake, not something you sacrifice safety for. If you want a rush, go skydiving. That wonderful ‘natural’ experience won’t matter much to a mother when an unforeseen but medically preventable tragedy occurs.
Read the linked blog, The Skeptical OB, if you want the viewpoint of someone truly qualified.
I laughed out loud reading this. To compare birthing to an appendix? You have lost your mind.
“labor and delivery is not about the ‘experience’ or ‘empowerment’ or any of that other stuff.”
SERIOUSLY? Why is it then that if I ask other women about their experiences these are the words they choose? Shut the fuck up, you are a man and you will never know so don’t even try to tell women how they SHOULD or SHOULDN’T feel about their birth!!
Yes, your ad hominem arguments are ever so enlightening. “you are a man, you can’t have an opinion” - I’ve never heard that incredibly sound argument before. I am a trained medical professional and I have evidence to back up my claims. If you don’t know what evidence-based practice is, then we don’t need to have this discussion.
love my prez.
WHAT?!? This happened? This is baller beyond belief!
Prezzie does memes.
I experience physical pain each time I see a note on this GIF either asserting or asking if it is real.
Standard of professionalism was not maintained. I still love you all!
I hope you all know that I am generally a good guy but every 22year old has to get drunk aline on a Friday night every once in a while.
Happy drunk Friday, friends.. Im making kitchen alchemy and trying to ignore how quiet the house isd. I wish I had more time to blog and more time for my friends. I loce you all very much!
I know you did! You are, like me, a rationalist at heart. And agreed; it’s a badass GIF.