X-COM 2 Diaries: Don’t Panic

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30th April

Well that was all rather dramatic. Still, we solved a mystery, I learned BradFORD’s name (remember it, remember it!), and we killed snake royalty. I think perhaps more worrying were the allusions to other enhanced aliens. I do not want to run into a super-sectoid. Bradford still isn’t talking to me.

2nd May – Operation Holy Pyre

It’s VIP capturing time. We can kill or capture, the squad’s choice. The squad flies down, Baron included. It was a real toss up whether to send him or not. He’s riddled with holes and still has some snake-slime on him, but he’s just too useful to not bring along. I wonder if I’d be as willing to take the risk if he was actually human and not, y’know, a big bunch of circuitry with weapons attached. Almost certainly not. Oh well.

It’s a standard mission. Sneak sneak, scout. A couple of skirmishes are handled with no real panic. We keep Baron on the backline, providing fire support for a change. We spot the VIP, and Ghost uses her flair for ballsy stealth to give us the lay of the land, while everyone else positions themselves just out of contact range on the roof of the building which is – rather conveniently – right next to where the VIP is hanging out.

It’s a thing of tactical beauty. Ghost breaks from cover and dashes the whole twelve feet before clonking the VIP unconscious (with remarkable restraint). The rest of the aliens scatter, but my lot on the rooftops are perfectly placed to skydive down and blown each and every one of them away. Well done.

Now to get out. We have an evac spot lined up, and in the interests of time Ghost hauls the VIP over her shoulder and starts moving. The evac is just over a crossroads, and all we have to do is dash there (with reasonable caution). It’s almost certain there are still some aliens lurking around, and the ever present chance of reinforcements dropping in as well.

Everyone sticks to the nearest wall and makes their way along. The evac point is in sight – but just a little too far to make a break for it. As she’s the one with the package, Ghost crosses the road first.

Oh shit.

Oh. SHIT.

As soon as Ghost starts to move across the road, she’s spotted. An entire alien squad was hiding round the corner, just out of sight. But that is NOTHING compared to the pant-wetting terror of what is with them.

The Berserker Queen. We’ve heard reports of berserkers, but we’ve not encountered any ourselves. Just our luck we run into the most dangerous, genetically fucked up one on the planet. Thanks mad scientists, thanks a fucking heap.

I don’t know what to do. Ghost is crouched behind a bin, caught in the headlights of every single enemy. She can’t reach the extraction point. And I know that as soon as any of my team try to do anything, that queen will come steamrolling in. I have no idea what it would do next, but I know it would be bad.

Ghost makes a hitherto unheard of move: she retreats. Dragging the VIP with her, she makes a dash away from the evacuation point, back to higher cover and the rest of the team. The Queen immediately gives chase. Bellowing loud enough to break eardrums, she thuds around the corner into full view of the team. Thank fuck the squad aren’t as reckless as they might seem. Enough of them had the foresight to prepare for the unexpected, and as the Queen bulldozes round the corner – taking out the side of the building as she comes – three of the squad unload into its ridiculously thick hide.

It doesn’t seem to do much except piss it off. We have just enough time to notice that the Queen appears to have fifty-pound knuckledusters attached to its hands before she slams them into the ground like the fist of a doomsday god. A shockwave smashes every window within 100 meters as the entire squad is knocked off their feet. Some are disoriented, some are simply swearing very loudly. Everyone is scared, and everyone is hurt.

But Dynamite is no fool and immediately responds by freezing its giant, horrifying ass with her cryo grenade. It doesn’t do anything to get rid of the problem, but it buys us a tiny window of time. There’s no time for safety any more, so Baron steps up and fires a rocket directly into the Queen’s face. Ghost flings a desperate axe, and Slinger makes a panicked, if easy, headshot on the thing. Our respite is over, as the Queen breaks free of the ice. Not only that, but the rest of the alien squad has now had time to react as well (don’t forget, all of this has happened in about three seconds)

Thankfully, Ghost’s choice to run away was the right one. The alien squad is just too far from us to make it round the corner. They’re coming, but it’s another few seconds of grace.

It doesn’t save us from the main problem, which is, y’know, the 10 foot enraged alien monstrosity that is right in fucking front of us. Everyone tenses for the inevitable murder spree…

…which doesn’t happen. Instead of slaughtering us wholesale, the Queen opens up some kind of…portal? A purple psionic gateway is summoned into existence. Is she…trying to escape? I think she is. We try to get off a shot or two, but the Queen just smashes through our cover and vanishes into the purple maw.

Huh.

The squad picks itself up – there are still some normal scary aliens to deal with. The following battle feels pale, washed out. Our people are shellshocked and hurt, but they know how to deal with these enemies. Our guys dodge, hide, cover and fire. The squad make a firing retreat as they do so, making our way towards the evac point – which has been so tantalizingly in sight this whole time. As soon as it’s within dashing distance, there’s a group scramble to grab the ropes and run.

Whew. How prophetic that operation name turned out to be. Truly, that was akin to being tied to a stake on a flaming bonfire. Except the fire is bullets. And the stake is a horrifying mutant of deity-like strength. As a kicker, all of those back at the base don’t even get to see what the Queen looks like. Turns out we were literally too terrified to capture any images of it.

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2nd May (still)

I need to breath. I need to sleep. I need this to not be happening. Everyone steps off the skyranger and limps to medbay (or the repair shop). Except for me. I don’t get clean sheets and grapes, no, I get rushed to the command room to find out the Advent calender is at EIGHT. Did you forget about the countdown? Because I did. EIGHT, out of twelve. 66% of the way to being dead. More than that, there are two Advent bases in operation around the globe, and we don’t have enough local resources to find either of them, let alone take them out.

Suddenly all of that money I poured into outfitting my squad with stuff to help them not die seems foolishly spent. The secret plan I’ve been working towards for the last month might have killed us.

4th May – Operation Bone Mask

This is starting to go bad. The aliens have found another of our resistance cells and we need to save it. But most of our troops are out of action. Baron hasn’t been fully repaired since we got hold of him. I’m sending in a squad which includes raw recruits – troops who can just about carry a gun. Fuck it, while she’s not nearly as ready as I would’ve liked, I need to send in the weapon I’ve been training up in secret.

I need Jemima Palfreyman.

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I selected Jemima on the day the revolution began, as the one who showed the most potential for mental control. Non of the other troops even knew she was on board. She’s spent our entire time in seclusion – not out of cruelty, but to preserve the safety of everyone on board. A fortnight ago, I finally managed to build the psi-ops centre I’ve been working towards since the start. Since then, she’s been in training 24 hours a day. It seems to have worked. She’s gone from a raw recruit to something…else. She also appears to have grown a foot taller. Not even kidding, when I recruited her, she was a shortarse. Now she’s every bit as tall as me.

We fly the troops down. Angel, Jemima, Baron, and three unknown recruits. I don’t even know their names.

What follows is one of the strangest missions we’ve ever run. Three of our group are on a pure rescue mission. It’s harsh, but we need to calm and save these civilians – if we don’t, they might leave the resistance, and right now, that makes them more valuable than the three cannon fodder troops we’ve jetted down. Meanwhile, Angel and Jemima are teaming up to take out threats, and Baron is charging off on his own. He’s bulletproof enough to (probably) survive at least one surprise, and his weapon is the biggest one we own.

It…works. The entire mission is a surreal wash of fire and bullets. In the attack, the aliens have set nearly everything on fire, and back in the command centre, I’m barely managing to stay conscious. Somehow, I’m managing to give orders. About halfway through the mission, we find out what Jemima has been learning. For the first time, we meet a berzerker – a solid wall of muscle and rage.

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But we’ve dealt with worse and in a flash, Jemima places the beast in stasis. Surrounded by a wyrd purple sphere, it buys enough time for the rest of the team to rescue the surrounding civvies, and as soon as the bezerker comes back down to our plane of existence, Angel is ready to spear the fucker.

A few tricks later and it’s mission success. And Angel seems quite taken with our new psionic team member.

Oh god I need to sleep.

Read part 1: Here

Part 2: Here

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