If you missed the first part of Matt Schanuel’s game journal of his XCOM Ironman Classic playthrough wherein all the soldiers are named after old college friends of ours, it’s found here.
The following excerpts are from the logs of Commander Milich Gray, who was placed in command of the international XCOM project immediately following the first abductions.
March 4, 2015
For every success we have, there are two things we’ve let slip. We’re being overwhelmed. The abductions in North America and Africa were severe, and each continent perceived our inaction as lack of capability. They are, of course, right; we don’t have the manpower or the resources to protect the entire globe all of the time. The aliens have us at such a disadvantage that any talk of control on our part would be, at best, wishful thinking. We haven’t done enough to instill confidence in the project, and at this point I sincerely doubt it’s possible for us to even maintain that goodwill which we have earned. Four days into April, and I already dread what the month’s end will bring: another meeting with XCOM’s shadow-council, bringing with it the pitiless eyes of outsiders that do not – indeed, cannot – understand the difficulties we have begun to face.
I fear that trust is thin even within the project. Erin doesn’t blame me for the death of her husband, at least any more than she should, and for that I am thankful. Blame is of less concern to me than the maintenance of trust; if I lose that, more death will follow, and each loss for the project is a loss for all of humanity. Our failures will be magnified across the globe. The whole of Earth should mourn for our fallen.
Perhaps I am thinking too far ahead for my own good. Perhaps I should use this log to recite the details of my management, rather than my fears, even if that would be dishonest to the realities of my position. I think my fears that I would not be honest enough were misguided; I appear to have let loose a torrent of private thought for this log. I will focus on the details for now.
Schanuel has been assigned a supporting role in combat; given the psychological evaluations, and the influence that the death of Coberly has had on him, I think it will suit him. Luckily for all of us, Coberly’s absence is quickly filled. From the US military’s “hot-site” in upstate New York came Alex Tracy, who, as I understand it, might actually bring some much-needed levity to the project. Anything that can improve morale at this point is invaluable.
Dr. Lahner has suggested that we attempt to capture one of the aliens alive and, along with Shen, has been developing a holding chamber to store our future captives. Bradford was understandably cautious, but Lahner and Shen make good sense; if it means unlocking the mysteries of alien technology, then it is worth the risk.
It is hard to believe that the project has only been in full swing for three days. It seems like the only time I get a moment to write for this log is during those tense moments before an operation begins. Mere minutes ago, one of our Interceptors shot a UFO out of the sky – I do not mean to be so flippant about that. It is an incredible achievement. Having some measure of superiority over the enemy, even an enemy scouting vessel, is incredibly encouraging. McCoberly, Biggs, Schanuel and Tracy are waiting for me, and so I must return to this later.
OPERATION TWISTED DAZE – Japan – April 4th, 7:46pm – 7:53pm JST
This operation went better than the last, but not by much.
The UFO crashed in an unpopulated, forested area. Following protocol, the troops moved up methodically, keeping each other covered, until Schanuel stumbled upon a pair of sectoids lying in ambush. Tracy moved around to flank them, but in so doing attracted another pair; it was an unfortunate miscalculation. In a brave move, Biggs charged forward past the first sectoid to take cover behind a hill and eliminated its ally, assuming that McCoberly, Tracy or Schanuel would eliminate the first. It’s a maneuver that would have worked with a team that has been working together for years, even months. As it was, they couldn’t react fast enough to get a kill-shot. I didn’t recall him in time, and because of that, we nearly lost another soldier. He’s lucky he got away with severe plasma burns; if Schanuel hadn’t been there, he would be dead now, and the initiative would be down one of its more promising recruits.
Tracy proved his worth; after witnessing one of the mind-melds that the sectoids use to empower one another, he made a risky charge to flank the initiator instead of the receiver. With a lucky head-shot, he felled the first, and a thick cord of feedback drove the other one to the ground before its skull popped open in an alarming display of fluid and bone. “I figured out how the mind-share works,” came his grainy, proud voice over the comms; I can’t be the only one who experienced the chilling revelation that XCOM’s best science was being done down the barrel of a gun.
All else was quiet, allowing Schanuel a moment to make sure that Biggs wasn’t going to die on him. I reminded them all that there was still the UFO to secure; Biggs being out of commission didn’t change a thing. Upon approach to the vessel, something Dr. Vahlen described as a being of “pure energy” formed out of the air itself into something as tall as a man. She wondered at it, but it immediately took cover and was hefting about a massive plasma weapon; much to the Doctor’s chagrin, I asked for McCoberly to keep it from firing, and she obliged. She’s proving to be a very capable sniper. Upon death, if that is what she gave it, it dissolved into the air and, as all the alien weapons tend to, its plasma device exploded. With that, the UFO was empty, and we were able to salvage significant new technology from its husk.
Tracy has proven himself capable of becoming a full member of the squad, and given his energy, enthusiasm, and propensity for quick thinking, it seems to me that an Assault load-out makes sense for his next mission. We also now have a Corporal Erin McNeil-Coberly in our ranks – a reward for her impeccable aim.
March 16th, 2012
Both Tracy and Biggs were injured in our last maneuver, and since our operations wouldn’t be nearly as successful with two soldiers. I’ve sped up some of our troop requisitions to meet the demand. Thankfully, the shutdown of our old base in Morocco released one Anne Winters to our service (which seemed to improve Tracy’s mood considerably), and the Atlantis research site recognized our need and allowed Brad Gilson to come join us. Luckily, the aliens seem to have given us a break; enough time to finish research into a containment facility for holding alien captives, even if we don’t currently have the resources to build it. I’ve had Vahlen start research on a stunning device that will allow us to take them alive. She says it will only work at close range – not an encouraging limitation.
I have had time to get acquainted with Matt Schanuel during the calm. We have shared a few conversation; he had held me at a respectful distance until the 7th, I believe, a few days after the UFO assault. He had been drinking heavily, and when I found him he was well into drunkenness and, more importantly, alone in the mess. He had up until then maintained a respectful distance, and so now seemed like a good chance to catch him unguarded. I try to do this with every new recruit; it’s essential to know who I’m giving orders to, and it’s useful for catching warning signs. The death of Coberly had been traumatic, so I wanted to make sure that I could depend on Schanuel in another bad situation.
He was pensive, mostly; calm, and, though he was drunk, his words were thoughtful and measured. He carefully skirted the topic of his dead friend, but it was the core of our conversations orbit; it all traced back to that origin.
“This whole thing is just absurd,” he said, his voice flat.
I nodded along, noting that it was odd to move from a civilian life to a black ops existence, noting that I could empathize.
“That’s not what I mean, but, yeah, that is pretty surreal. It’s something else…” He was silent, uncomfortable with whatever thought he was having for a while. “This is terrible science fiction. The universe has given us bad sci-fi. Preyed upon by a super-advanced species, by means of open abductions. It’s bizarre; why toy with us? What do they need from us, and why do they feel they have to take instead of trading and working with us?”
“They should be better than us. With technology like that, why aren’t they better than us? I’ve spent so much of my life hoping for alien life to show up, for us to be something other than alone, but I expected something better than this. They can’t be all that’s out there; there must be others that just don’t know about us yet. Worlds beyond worlds of life for us to cooperate with. I wanted it to be like Star Trek, like Doctor Who or Mass Effect – for the universe to celebrate diversity and for our own movements toward greater civility and beauty to be echoed elsewhere. We have to have something higher to look forward to. We just have to.”
“Instead, the universe gave us these assholes. It gave us more war and exploitation and abuse of power to control whatever you can. I am so disappointed in it.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t say anything. We drank in silence. We have spoken a couple of times since, but nothing so memorable as that conversation.
The quiet gave Biggs and Tracy time to rest up in time for the next round of abductions, which have just begun. We are sending the Nerd Corps to Saint Petersburg, Russia, partially because we can’t afford Europe panicking any more than it already is, and partially because they have promised to return one of the Corps that they intercepted a year ago. Evidence points to this being Joshua Hastey. It’s essential that we prevent any loss of hope; after the last two operations, we could definitely use a lift in spirits, and one more reunion can only help. I have decided to have Tracy sit this one out in order to get Anne some experience on the battlefield. Winters, McNeil-Coberly, Schanuel and Biggs are en route to the abduction site.
OPERATION PURPLE FALL – Saint Petersburg, Russia – March 16th, 2012 – 7:15am – 7:27am
The following is a record of the visual and audio logs acquired from the operation.
[Schanuel and Biggs sit on one side of the Skyranger, McCoberly and Winters sit on the other]
McCoberly: I’m glad you’re here, Anne.
Winters: Yeah, well… if I had a choice, I don’t think I would be. This isn’t how I wanted to spend my best years, you know? Life was just getting great.
McCoberly: Yes. I know.
Winters: Oh. Yeah.
Schanuel: Joedd, have you thought about not getting shot today?
Biggs: Ha! You know, Matt, I have, but I was on the fence.
Schanuel: Well, if there’s anything I can do to push you over to the “not shot” side, you let me know.
Biggs: Will do.
Schanuel: …how did it feel?
Biggs: [silence] Surprisingly cool. Temperature cool. And then part of you is burning, and part of you is gone.
Biggs: It’s terrifying.
Gray: Approaching the drop-site, soldiers. Get ready.
[Skyranger door lifts down, and Nerd Corps hustles out into an abandoned construction site]
Schanuel: Another one?
Biggs: Everybody knows that constructions workers are Earth’s most valuable resource. Hey Matt, remember that construction worker character I played in-
McCoberly: Shush. Contact spotted up above. Sectoid… both dropped down, ran behind the shipping crates.
Winters: Oh, guys! Two more over here, two of them!
Schanuel: I’ve got you covered, Anne, keep them in sight.
Winters: Got it. Behind the wall.
Biggs: Found two more!
[pistol fire from Biggs; camera shows shot through the eye]
Biggs: One more, I mean! I am proud of that shot!
[rifle fire from McCoberly, piercing through the chest of a sectoid, sending it hurtling to the ground]
McCoberly: Good work. Now keep shooting.
[plasma fire, impacts Winters on the arm]
Winters: Ow! Owww!
Schanuel: Anne, stay there for a second!
[Schanuel tosses a smoke grenade ahead]
Schanuel: You kept eyes on, right? Fire where they were!
[Winters turns and fires]
Schanuel: Heh. Anne is kicking ass over here, guys.
Winters: Was that patronizing?
[McCoberly catches another sectoid in the skull]
Schanuel: It wasn’t! Anne is being a fantastic… distraction.
[sectoid goes running, Schanuel takes it out]
Biggs: Hey, I’m going to test out Tracy’s theory; I see a mind-melding alien!
[he charges forward, up a set of stairs, hits some cover and hops up]
[distracted sectoid turns, is overwhelmed by shotgun blast, sending purple cord of psychic energy coursing through the air; somewhere, an alien screams]
Biggs: That’s two… for the price of one!
Gray: That’s all targets accounted for. Finish sweeping the site, soldiers.
[McCoberly climbs a nearby building as the other three sweep outside]
McCoberly: Moving into position… I have eyes on two sectoids. And they have eyes on me. Great.
Schanuel: We’re moving up! Joedd, I think now would be a good time for heroics!
[sectoids fire at McCoberly; one shot catches her forearm, but she damps out the ensuing flames quickly]
McCoberly: If somebody wants to shoot them…
Biggs: You bet. There’s one!
[shotgun blast, sectoid is down]
[McCoberly pops up, sights down the other and fires, eliminating it]
McCoberly: Beautiful, Joedd.
[Biggs turns around to Schanuel, grinning]
Biggs: Didn’t get shot.
[a pair of sectoids clamber up on pipes behind Biggs and level plasma rifles at him]
Schanuel: Joedd, look-
[small arms fire from the west; both sectoids lie dead]
Winters: What? Who shot…?
[figure in gray fatigues hops down from the half-finished building]
Hastey: One of you saw that, right? I don’t want to brag, but… yeah.
McCoberly: Is that Josh?
Hastey: It is! Hello!
[a Russian follows from the building and makes his way down while Hastey hugs Biggs]
Schanuel: Jesus Christ is it good to see you.
Russian: XCOM. As promised, here is your man back. We took good care of him.
[rifle shot; a bullet whizzes past the Russian’s head. He looks wide-eyed up at McNeil-Coberly]
Schanuel: Erin, what the hell!
McCoberly: Get the hell out of here.
Russian: …I’m going. Lockdown, it has been good. Be well, and stay safe. We’ll drink when this is all over.
Hastey: Goodbye, Andrei.
[he passes through the building and is gone]
Hastey: Erin. Please don’t shoot at my friends.
McCoberly: They kidnapped you.
Hastey: …they did.
Schanuel: So. We need to get back to the Skyranger and let Trimmel know the bodies are ready for pick-up. Hastey, you good to go?
Hastey: I am.
Winters: Do your fatigues say “Lockdown” on them?
Hastey: Indeed! Funny story…
The Nerd Corps performed admirably this time around. Winters hasn’t proven she can keep herself together under fire, but… goodness, I forget most of these kids haven’t ever been fired at before, even conventional fire, except during training exercises. They’ll have to learn in the field, unfortunately.
Hastey has just gotten settled in, but I’m sending him right back out. The Council informed me that something serious is going down in Nigeria; this is a mission of vital importance. With McCoberly and Winters still injured, I think it’s time to see what Hastey and Gilson can do.
Part 3, Attrition, is here.