Nerd Corps Alien Defense Pt. 2 6

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, 20127:15am – 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]
Winters: Yaaaaaa!
Schanuel: Heh. Anne is kick­ing ass over here, guys.
Winters: Was that patron­iz­ing?
McCoberly: Yes.
[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]
Biggs: Hey!
[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.
Winters: Josh!
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]
Winters: Ahhh!
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.

Alex Tracy

Recruit Tracy in his inex­plic­a­bly pink armor. He insist­ed.

Anne Winters

Recruit Winters.

Bradford Gilson

Recruit Gilson.

Josh Hastey

Recruit Hastey.

Part 3, Attrition, is here.

Matthew Schanuel

About Matthew Schanuel

Matthew Schanuel lives in Boston, Mass. He's a beer aficionado, a game player (and designer!), an academic-in-exile, a DM, and, most recently, an employee of a financial non-profit. He draws the comic Embers at night over at

6 thoughts on “Nerd Corps Alien Defense Pt. 2

  • Brad

    At first I thought I was one of the Alien tech researchers. I guess Hastey and I get to crack some alien skulls in Nigeria.

    • Matt Schanuel

      Actually, I think you are head­ed to Lagos.

      Oh, it’s not men­tioned, but you are a Sergeant, “Lockdown”, and Sniper by class.

      • Josh

        Nice! Hope Erin does­n’t mind hav­ing anoth­er one around. Here’s to see­ing Sunny Lagos. Course it would have helped if I had stud­ied Africa at all. Figures. Spend six years study­ing every­thing East of Saudi Arabia and where do I get sent? Russia, then Nigeria, that’s where…

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