XCOM 2: Still Here

For previous entries, click relevantly: Part 1.

Well it’s certainly been an exciting time. Since last time, we’ve met the lone survivor of ‘The Council’ (e.g. my banker), discovered two other factions fighting against the aliens (Reapers and Skirmishers respectively), fought alongside them,  spent a month of research completely ignoring the important things and chasing after early magnetic weapons (after our scientists were ‘inspired’), discovered entire cities of undead alien/human zombies called The Lost, bought rookies Cee Haines, Ciaran O’Sullivan, Jamie Brewster, Nate Spencer and Morgan Linden in on various operations (no fatalities yet!), completed an entire rescue mission without firing a single shot or ever being spotted, run op after op after op, met shapeshifters, snake people, The Chosen Assassin, and fought of goddamn wave after wave of Lost…and it’s what, month 2?

Fucking christ on a goddamn bike.

Operation Lost Dream

As we join our squad now, it’s another rescue. Our dubious allies, The Reapers, have requested our help on this one. The Reapers, by the by, are sniping stealth masters. Hard bastards. Fortunately, they like us (a bit), and have lent us one of their operatives – Elena Dragunova. She’s with us on this mission, and she’ll be serving as our deep scout. We have only a few minutes to scramble across the city and get to where our ally is trapped. They have a turret defending them, but it’s running out of ammo. And the city is filled, stuffed with Lost. You know those zombie movies you grew up watching? You know how they were scary, but not that scary. Yeah, this isn’t that. The Lost are endless. Ten, twenty of them can crop up when you’re not expecting. They give zero fucks about your tactics or your cover. They will surround you, and beat you to death with their own flailing limbs. Perhaps most terrifyingly – certainly for me, as a commander – they are drawn to explosions. Which means that our primary method of crowd control – the heavy weapons gang – are severely limited. What’s the point of blowing up five of them, if ten more are drawn to the noise?

So that’s the situation. On the ground we have a mixed bag of experience. Half our troops are injured, or worn out, or on covert missions, so we’re running through our roster. Heading up the team is my companion, Aimee. She’s fast earned her callsign, and these days is known as ‘Solo’. With her is Alex ‘Valentine’, our pistol-toting sniper, Erin ‘Mad-Dog’, covered in their signature blast armour, and Ciaran O’Sullivan, a little less experienced than the rest. But he’s seen some thing. And last is Elena ‘Outrider’- deeply important for the mission, but always at arms length.

The city is still, the only sound the far-off gunfire of that turret; our target. It’s eerie. All around are figures, frozen like Pompei fossils. As we run past, some of them crumble to dust. We…don’t know what they are. Are they humans, preserved by some virulent plague? Are they Lost that simply expired? Or are they simply waiting, Lost-In-Progress. It’s still for now, but any minute, we’ll come across a Lost. And where one is, many more will be.

Valentine’s squadsight is a strength here. Since Outrider can scout ahead with reasonable safety, the streets leave a clear avenue for our sniper to take out stragglers before they can even engage. It won’t help us for long, but you take what you can get.

And here they come. A sprawl of five of them. It’s not too huge a threat, but the race against time means we can’t get bogged down. It’s a running battle.

Ciaran does us proud, taking point and mowing down four of them. The rest of the squad moves up, but in doing so rouses another six Lost from the right. Fine. Fuck, a stray shot sets a car alight, and when it blows – which it does – more Lost come pouring in. This is why they are terrifying. They never. stop. coming.

We persevere, and make good time. Outrider runs ahead to the VIP. It’s a mixed move. With VIP secure, we can start to escape. But now they’re not manning that turret (and with that car explosion) the Lost have become a horde. We gotta go, now. Outrider grabs the VIP’s unconcious escort and legs it, VIP in tow. The rest of us beat a fighting retreat – buying Outrider and the VIP enough time. More and more and more of them are pouring in, there are twenty or thirty of them now. As soon as the VIP and co are aboard the skyranger, we drop all pretense and leg it.

All fine. Really, it was a simple mission. Which is not the same as saying easy, or relaxing, or anything other than pant-wetting terrifying. Back to the mothership.

Back on board the ship, Ciaran earns his callsign – Jester. My other up-and-comers Alexander Carrington and Jamie Brewster return from a covert op, in tact, and with a scientist in tow. Good job guys.

Well I’m glad their morale is high. Because here’s my current ‘to-do’ list: infiltrate and investigate the blacksite facility, punch an ADVENT officer in the head with a device, make enough contacts across Europe and Africa to get to where we think the AVATAR facility is, destroy the AVATAR facility, uncover a seperate guarded facility, clean up the mothership, upgrade the mothership to something worth a damn, research weapons and armour for my squads, build a room to fabricate said weapons and armour, buy those weapons and armour, make local contacts worldwide, protect all those contacts, meet and get in good with all the other factions, interfere with The Chosen who keep running around and fucking up my day, actually find The Chosen, kill the Chosen. All of this with almost no money to my name, and a tactical AI that – whatever I am doing – is constantly reminding me there are at least six or seven things I’m not.

Let’s get to it. I sent out Erin ‘Mad-Dog’ and Nate Spencer to make contact with the third faction we’ve been hearing about. I start making contacts in the west US, while our scientists continue to research weaponry that we can’t afford or build. I want to focus on something else, but the breakthrough’s are just too valuable. Ach, jaysus, we’ve now got multiple things that need dealing with, but we can only rush to help one. I go hardline: I pick the one that gets us the most money. We need it.

Operation Swamp Wheel

This time it’s me (now known as ‘Deacon’), my mate Aimee ‘Solo’, Alex ‘Valentine’, Cee nee ‘Rhino’ Haines, and our fairweather friend, Outrider. I notice Rhino and Outrider have clicked, similar to me and Aimee. Maybe AI-creep was right.

It’s….huh. Okay. Well, it’s dramatic. There is sneaking. Sniping. Teamwork and camradarie. Solo goes to town with a machete, slicing up three enemies in a row (with help from Deacon). Rhino pins down annoying enemies with their supressive fire. Sectoids repeatedly try to mind control us, but instead send multiple squad members into a panic. Oh, and they have robots now. And yet, for all that…we do fine. No one even gets injured. We go in, take calculated risks, and this time, they pay off. I can feel myself screaming in my head ‘do not get confident, do not get confident’. I know it’s going to go wrong. I know it is. But…not today.

Back on board AI-creep says it’s time for me and Aimee to take it to the next level. We’ve been identified as being able to take on dual-training. It’s a command risk, since it means two of our highest ranking soldiers will be out of commision for a while (including me, the medic). But it’s worth it. I hope.

While we’re doing that, work continues on the ship – science and engineering are in overdrive, we’re flying all over the place to try and make friends and influence people. It was easier back in the old days of the initial invasion, everyone was on board. Now, however, people have lost hope. That, and we’re asking them to rebal against a monolithically powerful race of ruling overlords by joining…one man and his mothership, essentially.

The bulk of progress seems to currently be coming from the covert ops. Might have to invest in that some more. And I would, if I had the personpower or the the actual electric power. As it is my engineers are still frantically burrowing out space in the ship so we can actually, one day, build everything/anything. Our tech is progressing really quite well. It’s all useless – no mag weapons or supercool stuff for our gang yet. Everyone has normal bullets and, if they’re very lucky, a medkit.

Ops keep coming. My squad are starting to display – let’s just say it – acts of heroism. It’s like they have a light inside them that drives them. I honestly don’t understand it. I’m a goddamn coward. Erin ‘Mad-Dog’ literally runs through a burning building and goes to save civilians while they are on fire. Alex ‘Valentine’ is basically a precision Punisher – she guards the team from a afar, and then dashes in and goes hogwild with her oversized pistol. That six shooter currently holds the record on ‘most Lost blown away’. Jamie Brewster, one of our less experienced guys, cut apart an ADVENT trooper that blew itself up. He took it for the team, nearly dying in the process. I think the propaganda campaign is working. And it’s working most on the team itself.

And then it happens. A mutagen, an unexpected shapeshifter – we’re caught out of position. Our squad is scattered, running to save civilians. Jamie is in the open, and gets tagged. He runs for cover. But it’s not enough, the mutagen throws a grenade that critically injures Ciaran ‘Jester’. And Jamie is dead. Gone.

The mission starts to fall apart. Our Skirmisher ally – our rebel ADVENT – is crippled, close to death. Jester has no more heals. In the worst moment, we find that Alex ‘Valentine’ was Jamie’s bondmate as she flies into an emotional tornado, firing round after round ineffectually at the foe. First Mad-Dog is set on fire, then repeatedly shot at, before being poisoned. There are now more of them in good shape than there are of us. And we still have to stop them killing civilians. We pull through. Just about.


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