THE B TEAM
by CHRISTOPHER RUZ
Chapter 13: Operation Purple Shield
Note – Another full year break between chapters! Now that XCOM 2 is out, I’m gonna have to hurry this up. Don’t worry, the end is in sight.
– – –
“We’re designating this one ‘Operation Purple Shield.’”
“Purple shield, purple heart… Portentous, don’t you think?”
“Not my fault, Commander. It’s randomly generated.”
“Who’re we sending?”
“Well, with Rudd and Huang in Zambia, and Colonel Chi taking the new snipers through a two week crash course…”
“Who are our most talented?”
“Captain Evan Leybourn and Captain Marsh. Both talented, cool under fire…”
“What do they call Leybourn? Hiroshima?”
“Close. Nuke. He’s, uh, indiscriminate. Had to run him through basic weapons training a second time. Couldn’t hit the ass-side of a barn.”
“Some promising recruits rising up the ranks. Corporals Cassie Hart and John Oakes are both strong talents, and Lieutenant ‘Twitch’ Wendig is our best shot by far. We call those three the Brontes, you see, because-”
“I don’t care. We need someone senior to lead. Where’s Major Richardson?”
“On leave until the-”
“Call him back.”
“Christ. Purple Shield? Bad omen.” Commander Pournelle gripped the edges of his desk like the office was tilting, like he’d be tossed off if he didn’t dig his toes into the shag carpet. “Sometimes…”
“Fuck this job.” He stared at the iPad propped on his desk, the satellite imagery of the crashed craft. A metallic frisbee five hundred yards across, buried at the base of a mountain range, vomiting smoke and ash. “Fuck it all.”
They crossed the Canadian border just before sundown and landed in a sheltered copse half a klick from the craft. The pines leaned drunkenly, blasted off-axis by the force of the X-rays’ crash landing. The UFO had ploughed a trench through the earth, uprooting great sequoias and churning firs to splinters.
“Looks rough.” Major Richardson led the team of six off the Skyranger. “They’re gonna be in defensive positions, using the trees, so keep-”
An elephantine roar echoed between the trees. Richardson pressed low against the sheared-off stump of a tree as wide around as their landing craft.
That was all the warning they got. Captain Leybourn was still running for cover when plasma sliced between the trees and smacked him off his feet. He landed on his arse, screaming as he batted at the flames blooming across his chestplate. Fire danced in his hair and licked through his eyebrows. “Medic! Need help, need help bad, come on-”
“Hold on!” Richardson peered out from behind cover, trying not to gag on the stink of burning hair. Three shapes moved in the trees, maybe fifty yards away. Humanoid, big. Mutons.
The panic was a distant whistle rising in the back of his head. Easy to clamp down, shove away. He flashed hand signals at Oakes and Marsh, then flipped the safety and jack-in-the-boxed out from behind his cover.
The men and women in the basements of XCOM had upgraded his equipment, taken away his heavy laser and handed him something alien to play with: a two-handed plasma cannon so heavy it came with a chest-harness and a magazine the size of a beer keg. It purred in his hands like a happy tomcat. The trigger was soft beneath his finger, well oiled. There was a satisfying click as it depressed.
The plasma arc was nova-bright. It cut through the trees at chest height, carving aged pine and blowing bowling-ball holes from granite boulders.
The three mutons vanished into the black. No way to tell if they’d been hit, but at least they were spooked. “Oakes, do your thing!”
A single, tight beam of acid-green lanced between the trees. From the distance came a low grunt, followed by the thud of meat on earth.
“One,” Oakes drawled.
“And?” More plasma zipped past, driving Richardson low.
“Hold up, friend. Slow and steady.” Oakes exhaled, his rifle balanced in the crook of a low branch.
Click. Zip. “Two.”
Two comrades dead must’ve been enough for the last remaining muton, because it charged between the trees as Oakes was reloading. Richardson tried to pull his gun around but it was too heavy, too slow. “Hit it, hit that-”
Three lines of plasma leaped between the trees simultaneously, catching the oncoming Muton in the face, guts and crotch. It didn’t crumple so much as break apart, a fleshy balloon shot through with a javelin. First it was there, arms pumping, jaw unhinging to reveal blunt, crushing teeth. Then came silence, followed by the patter of bone shards.
Richardson stood slowly, wiping his forehead with the back of one armoured hand. Behind him, Marsh, Wendig and Hart were grinning like fools, their rifles still venting steam.
“Solid,” Richardson nodded. “Marsh, check Leybourn. Hart and Oakes, you’re on perimeter. Wendig…” Richardson picked a streak of flesh off the shoulder of his armour. Nothing stank quite like a muton under pressure. “Get me a towel?”
Wendig, Hart and Oakes. They called them the Brontes back at base: three wannabe writers, recruits with manuscripts tucked inside their lockers and leather-bound notepads stuffed down their chestplates. Always prepared, like they were going to find time to jot down tasty dialogue in the middle of a firefight.
John Oakes was the tallest of the three, a ginger-bearded rake with a baseball cap surgically attached to his skull. Survived Colonel Chi’s fight-or-die sniper training course with close to 100% accuracy. Kept the barracks-boys up late with dirty stories. Always about midgets. That didn’t bother Major Richardson so long as he kept putting big holes in X-rays.
Corporal Cassie Hart was their second sniper. Didn’t like hanging back – charged through heavy fire with a rifle taller than her slung across her shoulders. Had an infectious laugh, and she laughed a lot, especially whenever they were approaching a drop-zone. Kept pictures of her kids in her wallet. Talked sex like fucking was going out of style.
The last of the three, Lieutenant ‘Twitch’ Wendig, was the old man of the crew. Wore thin-rimmed glasses and a perpetual scowl. Always squinting, reading the shadows. When he spoke, which was rarely, it was always either a compliment or a curse. Mouth like a sailor’s ass, as Richardson’s mother might’ve put it, but gutsy.
Richardson didn’t ask what they wrote. So long as they got the job done, he didn’t give a shit whether it was middle-school lit or werewolf erotica.
The Brontes knew their squad tactics. Major Richardson let them forge their own path through the shaded forest, moving toward the shimmering bulk of the UFO like well-oiled pistons, providing seamless lines of cover as they shifted from log to trunk to splintered stump.
It was all Marsh and Leybourn could do to keep pace. “You wanna put a leash on your authors, Major?” Leybourn called.
Richardson’s grin was hidden by the jut of his mouthguard. “You know, I write a little myself.”
“Don’t tell me. The great Australian novel?”
“Not great. The greatest.”
Marsh made a jerking-off motion with his free hand. “Real quiet out here, Major. You think they got bored, all went home?”
“We’ve never been that lucky, Captain. Not once, not ever.” The UFO rose up between the slanted pines. Guys down in the research division said the biggest suckers, the X-ray troop carriers, each weighed as much as a small midwestern town, dogs, pick-up trucks and potatoes included. It got hard to tell the true scale of the thing up close. Like a whale breaking through the surface of a green-glass ocean. “I want motion sensors to the east and west. No way are we getting flanked on my birthday.”
He sent the Brontes in first, Wendig and Oakes using the rents torn by the crash landing to clamber up the sheer side of the craft while Hart took to the skies. She was wearing the new armour spat out only the week before by the kids in research.
Archangel, they called it – ablative plate with two miniature jet-thrusters on the back. Just enough kick to get a soldier fifty feet into the sky and hold them. Complete battlefield control.
The way Richardson saw it, Archangel was just four hundred grand worth of high-grade explosives strapped to your back. He’d seen footage of troops toting flamethrowers in the mid-20th, clearing out bunkers on Okinawa. Only took one stray round to the tanks to set the whole thing off.
No thank you.
Radio chatter said the approach was quiet. All entrances in and out of the craft were open. Inviting.
Bullshit. “Marsh, I need you ready. If this is an ambush…”
“On it, Major.”
Captain Marsh, med kit swinging at his side, closed the gap between the treeline and the UFO. That just left Richardson and Leybourn watching from the safety of the pines. Richardson chewed his lower lip and tasted copper. Really needed to kick that habit…
It was a shadow amongst deeper shadows. A distracted man might not’ve noticed it at all, but there was a reason Richardson had kept alive long enough to make major. He thumbed the radio, screamed down all the channels.
Lieutenant Wendig had ascended the side of the UFO and was five feet from the front door when the wheeze and clank of heavy ordinance hit.
His radio squealed. “Sectopod! Fall back, fall back!”
No falling back when you were already in the mouth of the beast. He ducked low, squeezing his solid frame behind one of the buttresses jutting from the side of the UFO – damned inefficient aerodynamics, the x-rays were fucking amateurs when it came to streamlining – and tickled the trigger, the air crackling around his plasma rifle as it spun up.
Nothing like five tons of walking death coming your way to make you fill your pants. Wendig sucked his moustache, trying to keep still, keep silent. Let the fucker pass him by. He hoped Oakes was somewhere safe; the radio chatter had cut off. HQ theorised the x-rays used it to triangulate on hidden soldiers, but theories weren’t worth shit when you had a tank on chicken legs stomping your way…
The ground purred beneath his feet as the mech came out of the treeline, completing a clockwise patrol around the craft. It stopped dead, the armoured cabin atop those two pistoning legs whirring around, and even though there were no eyes in that mass of steel and armoured plating, Wendig was sure it was staring him down.
“Love of fuck,” he whispered, and jumped.
The four meter fall from the UFO to the forest floor was long enough for Wendig to consider all his bad life choices. He dropped as if in slow motion, taking in the small brown rabbit skittering through the grass below (don’t squash the rabbit, he thought, Gollnick will kill me when she hears), the rocks the size of human skulls threatening to turn his ankles, the bloom of ignition as the Sectopod fired a brace of rockets from the twin launchers squatting on its shoulders…
The heat of them passing overhead singed his hair. Then came the roar, the light hurling him ass over tit as a brace of rockets detonated against the side of the UFO. He hit dirt, rolled twice, and got to his feet with his ears ringing and his teeth clicking like popcorn kernels.
No time to fuck about. A log five meters ahead was perfect cover, until a beam of pure heat flashed from the sectopod’s cannons and reduced it to char. Wendig duked left, aiming for a boulder twice his height, knees wobbling as he struggled through the concussion haze. Somewhere in the treeline Captain Leybourn was screaming, “Move, Wendig, move!”
The world was stitched with green.
Wendig skidded on the wet grass, falling to his knees as plasma divided the air. Corporal Hart was swooping in, her archangel gear spitting flame as she dropped from cloud cover. Her rifle yammered as she raked the sectopod from crotch to crown.
Wendig’s radio squealed. “Keep your head down! I’ll keep it tied up while you get to-”
Corporal Hart’s radio chatter became a scream of static as the sectopod fired. Twin lines of heat swatted her out of the sky, and she landed in a heap of limbs on the UFO’s gangplank.
She wasn’t moving.
“Medic!” Wendig shook off the last of the concussion and sprinted the distance, trigger held down, spraying the sectopod with plasma. Hart lay very still, legs twisted beneath her at lunatic angles. A flush in her cheeks – breathing, but only barely. “Marsh, where the fuck are you? Get your ass up, Hart. We need you-”
A thud of boots. The electric-drill whirr of plasma rifles ready to fire. They only had seconds.
Hart blinked. Gasped. Spat blood. “Am I alive?”
Wendig grabbed the collar of her armoured suit and hauled her to her feet. “Back in the game, before-”
Too late. The reinforcements had arrived, stomping down the UFO gangplank.
One muton would’ve been manageable. Three would’ve been a big old heap of bullshit.
Six of the armoured grunts was taking the piss. And six plus an ethereal, one of the upper-caste assholes, seven and a half feet of leathery skin and unholy power boiling in the hollows of its eyes… that was just unfair.
It fixed on Wendig. One whip-thin hand raised, pointing with a needle-thin finger.
Black fire pearled around its fingertip, and in that moment Wendig knew he was about to die. Just as Captain ‘Crater’ White had died, compressed to a smear of meat by a miniature black hole. This was his and Hart’s last moment.
At least he’d killed a lot of assholes along the way.
Captain Leybourn’s cry was a bare whisper over the thudding in Wendig’s ears. “Heads down, fire in the hole! I said, fire in the-”
He saw the reflected fire in the ethereal’s bulging black-glass eyes as the rocket spiralled in.
Wendig had just enough time to throw himself flat across Hart, shielding her with the bulk of his armour, before Evan ‘Nuke’ Leybourn – named for the utter destruction he’d sown during RPG basic training – punched an anti-tank charge into the sectopod’s ribs and rained shrapnel across the UFO’s landing tray.
The sectopod – twelve foot of murder machinery and whistling missile-bays – came down with a bowel-shattering crash. It landed on its side, kicking trenches from the earth, spraying Wendig’s brow with wet dirt.
The advancing mutons danced back in sudden confusion. One wasn’t fast enough – shrapnel spray took its right arm off at the shoulder, and it fell screaming, clutching its stump. Blood the colour and thickness of tar spat between its claw-fingers.
For a moment the X-ray squad was frozen in confusion. Then the ethereal crossed its spindly arms and drifted backward, floating a hands-breadth above the ground, waving for its entourage of armoured gorillas to follow.
As one, they stomped back into the UFO. Doors hissed closed.
The X-rays were gone.
Wendig sagged in the mud. His breath came in desperate, shallow gasps. Underneath him, shielded by his body, Corporal Hart whispered, “You’re… crushing…”
“Shit. Sorry.” He rolled away, relief washing down his spine when he saw Captain Marsh rushing in with his med-bag open and graft-spray in hand. Hart was groaning, burned up the left side of her face, blood on her lips, but she’d live.
He knew, deep in his gut, that they’d gotten off easy. They’d lost their momentum. The ethereals were the X-ray strategists, and if they’d chosen to pull troops back into the UFO…
That meant corridors only the aliens knew, concentric lines of defences. Ambushes. It’d be room to room, door to fucking door. Urban warfare in a UFO.
Marsh was already fastening a stem-gel pack across Hart’s cheek. “We’re going to have to leave her behind. Evac can-”
“Respectfully, Captain.” Lieutenant Wendig forced himself to stand, finding his balance in the artillery-churned earth. “They’re going to put us through the grinder. We either go in together, or not at all.”
“Are you suggesting we walk away, Lieutenant?”
“I’m suggesting we need Hart on her feet. She’s the best shot here. Keep her at the back if you need, but if we go in without her, we’re all dead.”
Captain Marsh – tousle-haired, his beard tangled, exhaustion in his deep-set eyes – sighed before pulling a shot of adrenaline from his medical kit. “Ready to fight, Corporal Hart?”
Hart nodded, teeth sinking into her lower lip. “Do it.”
The needle slid in.
There wasn’t much Corporal John Oakes hated more than fighting door to door.
The six XCOM soldiers leapfrogged through the UFO, taking turns to smash the controls on sliding doors and peer inside. Empty chambers, control panels left idle, holograms spitting alien glyphs across the ceiling.
No mutons. No sign of the ethereal. But Oakes knew it was waiting, knew it’d be ready. Just a roll of the dice as to which poor sucker stepped into the ambush.
One in six. Not bad odds. Not great, either.
As it turned out, Captain Marsh was the one to take the bullet.
They were creeping up the spine of the craft – a long, fluted chamber where tall arches spiralled overhead, supporting a cathedral ceiling that glowed from the inside with firefly sparks – when Marsh punch a control panel, gaining them access to a side-chamber. The doors sighed open, and Marsh was still peering into the black when a bolt of acid green smacked him backward across the hallway.
Marsh hit the opposite wall hard enough to dent the UFO’s steel skin. He didn’t scream, didn’t call for help. Just grunted, blood fanning down his chin and across his chestplate.
“Son of a bitch!” Oakes already had his rifle up, fixed on the shadows beyond the door. Big shapes against the walls. The mutons.
A snap shot hit the first muton as it was scrambling back to cover, sent it sprawling in a cloud of vaporised blood, and Major Richardson closed the gap in the space of a breath, pushing his plasma cannon into the muton’s back and drilling a hole through its spine before it could get to its feet.
Major Richardson panted, green smoke wending up from the barrel of his cannon, twining through his dirt-streaked beard. “Is Captain Marsh alive?”
“Barely.” Oakes had a medical kit but only the barest training. He plugged Marsh’s wounds with a bubbling foam that looked like something you’d use to waterproof a bathroom and allowed himself a smile as Marsh nodded, mouthing You got it. Blood on his cheeks, in his eyes, but the captain would make it. “Anyone else hiding in there?”
“Can’t see shit.” Richardson squinted into the dark, reaching for the flares at his hip. “Might just be paranoid, but this feels like an ambush-”
The ethereal came out of the black, veiled in smoke. Oakes didn’t have time to shout a warning before it reached out, a light blooming in its cupped hands, a light that somehow drank the light, a sphere of perfect, purest darkness…
It unfolded like origami, blooming in the ethereal’s cupped hands.
The walls bowed out in one great exhalation. For a moment all was black, and Oakes staggered back, smacking against the skin of the UFO. It thrummed, the walls slick and hot, burning with alien energy. A laser discharged in the distance but he couldn’t tell where. “Major?”
The darkness faded.
Before him, in the doorway, Captain Leybourn lay screaming. His face was a puckered mass of burned flesh, red and weeping. His left eye had popped, leaking uncooked egg-white down his cheek. “Get it away from me! Richardson, get it-”
Major Richardson wasn’t listening.
The major turned, plasma cannon swinging from his shoulder-strap. His eyes were blank, fixed on a point far away.
His mouth hung open to reveal sculpted white teeth.
“Fuckin’ Jesus,” Wendig whispered. “He’s mind-wiped. Jump on him, get his gun, get his-”
Lieutenant Wendig was still reaching for Richardson’s cannon when the major put a full burst into his chest and out his spine.
He didn’t lay off the trigger until the beer-keg magazine was empty. Wendig lay on his back, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Plasma had washed over his gloves, melting them to the butt of his rifle. His glasses had fallen sideways, one eye bulging and distorted behind the cracked lens. Richardson’s cannon clicked, requesting a fresh magazine in lilting machine-tone. Leybourn was screaming, trying to wipe his own eye off his cheek. Captain Marsh clutched his chest, blood welling over his fingers.
The ethereal was gone. Retreated into the darkness soundlessly, leaving nothing but whispers in its wake.
Richardson blinked. His LMG dropped to the floor. “Where the fuck am… Oh.” He wiped one hand across his mouth, his breath stuttering around his knuckles. “Oh God, Chuck.”
There was nothing Oakes or anyone else could do for Lieutenant Wendig.
Captain Marsh got himself upright, using his rifle as a crutch. Was barely able to stay on his feet, but he forced himself to attend to Leybourn. Painkillers, adrenaline shots and a gauze pad across the ruin of his left eye got Nuke moving again, but only barely; he limped through the UFO corridors, taking turns gingerly, like he was make of porcelain.
Oakes hated that they had to leave Wendig behind. No time to cart his body back to the Skyranger. XCOM HQ had a special cleanup crew for that.
They’d killed ethereals before. Spooky fuckers, sure, but they died just like everything else when you hit them in the face with a rocket. So how had it all gone so wrong? Lieutenant Wendig was dead, Marsh was an inch from dead, Leybourn was half-blinded…
Corporal Hart rested a hand on Oakes’ shoulder. “Hey. Corporal. Head in the game?”
“Not sure.” He couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder, at the forest beyond the UFO. They’d taken a looping ramp around the edge of the craft, through silent pumping chambers and hallways bathed in the light of stuttering holograms that Oakes swore were showing X-ray porn on repeat, and then up, up, up to finally stand on what Oakes figured was an observation deck overlooking the woods.
From his vantage point he could just make out the Skyranger, nestled in a clearing a half-klick away, its flank catching the sunlight like a salmon’s scales. Evac close enough to touch.
If they dared run. No chance would Major Richardson order a retreat. They’d lost a soldier. An eye for an eye.
Three eyes. Two for Wendig, one for Leybourn. Ha.
Christ, if he could only stop his hands shaking. What good was a sniper with trembling hands? He took deep breaths, trying to loosen his grip, but his fingers were clamped in place. When he blinked he saw Wendig falling back, plasma vapour snaking upward from the barrel of Major Richardson’s cannon…
The line jerked to a stop, and Oakes pressed into the hollow of a wall, a natural nook in the UFO’s strange, muscular structures. Felt like the whole ship had been grown, not built. Steel swelling like flesh, lattice-bones with electric marrow.
Up ahead, Captain Leybourn peered around a corner, down into the central spine of the UFO. From the balcony, they had a clear line of sight along the extended hall that formed the UFO’s core. A hundred little side-chambers where anything could be hiding…
Leybourn flashed a series of hand signals. Four targets. The tall, thin ethereal, and its entourage of seven-foot attack-apes. All armed. All facing the other way.
Cat and mouse, Oakes realised. The ethereal was circling with its bodyguards, trying to catch them off guard. Hit them hard, cut off their legs, and vanish.
Now it was their turn.
The team moved into position in complete silence, slipping between the tall columns running along the length of the balcony, hiding in the glare of the noon sun. Oakes found a position where he could rest his rifle against a balustrade, sighting on the back of the ethereal’s skull. His hands were still trembling. Couldn’t get the sight of Lieutenant Wendig crumpling to the floor out of his head. But they had the four fuckers in enfilade. All they needed was the signal, to bathe the asshole in fire before he could slip inside their minds again.
Captain Leybourn unslung his rocket launcher. Oakes had no idea how the captain was aiming with only one eye, but from the way his teeth were bared, lips drawn back in a silent snarl, Oakes knew better than to ask.
Trust your superiors, he’d learned. Corporals follow captains. Hit them on the signal.
Major Richardson whispered in Leybourn’s ear. Nodded. One hand held out. A countdown: three, two…
As Oakes began to pull the trigger, the ethereal turned to look him in the eyes. He felt his guts drop through the floor. His aim trembled.
The three mutons were still running, arms outstretched, weapons puny in their meat-hook hands, when the chamber erupted in flame. One eye or not, Nuke’s aim was dead centre. Shrapnel pinged off the walls, taking a neat groove from the pillar less than an inch from Oakes’ left eye. The shockwave punched the air from his lungs, left him bent double.
His vision was blurred with sweat. He could taste his own fear – sour, like old milk – at the back of his throat. The trigger squeaked beneath his finger.
As the smoke cleared and the silhouettes of the mutons became clear – one spreadeagled on the floor, two somehow still standing – the team opened fire.
Plasma traced fine green lines across the chamber. Oakes didn’t know whether it was his shot or Corporal Hart’s that took the first muton’s head off, but it was Major Richardson who killed the second one, his cannon kicking hard enough to dislocate another man’s shoulder. He stitched the muton across the belly, opening its armour, its leathery hide, its guts.
The ethereal stood in the centre of the flame, unconcerned. Its robes – purple, rich, shimmering mirages of cloth – smoked away as fire licked up the weave. Its eyes were sunken so deep it seemed to Oakes they weren’t there at all, just pits you could fall in to, drown in, if you just let go…
He knew what was happening. The ethereals worked on different wavelengths, reaching inside minds, twisting like they’d done with Richardson. The same sort of talents they were trying to develop in the basement lab back at HQ. But that didn’t make it any easier to shrug it off. He didn’t want to fight. Better to turn, to lift his rifle, to aim at…
Oakes drove his head into the pillar as hard as he could. His teeth clicked together on his tongue and the stab of pain drove the fog away. “The ethereal! Shoot the fucking-”
Too late, he saw Captain Marsh turn, eyes glazed, rifle at his hip. Marsh’s mouth hung open, a single thread of saliva strumming between his tongue and upper teeth.
His aim swung across Leybourn, over Oakes, to rest on Hart.
Corporal Cassie Hart was still firing wildly into the chamber below, one eye glued to the scope, when Marsh’s rifle began to hum. She looked up, eyes wide, Marsh’s rifle a hands-breadth from her chest.
“Don’t,” she whispered.
Captain Marsh shot Hart point-black, plasma splashing back and burning spatter-patterns from his armour. He was expressionless, blank-eyed, as Hart fell back with her armour melting away and her guts sausaging between her fingers.
“Son of a bitch!” Oakes swung his rifle around, and for a moment he had Marsh in the crosshairs, his own captain staring dumbly down the barrel of his sniper rifle, framed by the hard steel edges of the scope.
Then he snapped back, settling on the leathery hollow of the ethereal’s skinny throat. Fucker had done enough. No more. Not that day.
He barely felt the recoil.
The ethereal collapsed, flames boiling from the hole opened in its neck. It fell like a cut-string marionette – first to its knees, then folding backward, its skull hitting the floor with a coconut crack. The nightmare of rotten skin and black-hole eyes reduced to paper mache, crumpled and boneless.
Captain Marsh rocked on his toes. He blinked, the dreamy caul falling from his eyes. His rifle slipped from his grip. “I couldn’t stop it. It looked at me and it was so fast, so so fast-”
Oakes didn’t have time for the captain. He ran to Hart, scooping her up, the retained heat of her archangel armour searing waffle-grid patterns into his palms. He wanted to scream for a medic but there was none – Marsh was barely lucid and evac was too far away. “Hart! You’re not ready to die. You’re all good. Listen to me! Listen.”
Behind him, Major Richardson and Captain Leybourn got to their feet. Richardson was all business, already calling in the Skyranger for immediate extraction. Leybourn was just walking back and forth, rocket launched propped on his shoulder, not meeting Oakes’ eyes.
“She’s gonna make it, right?” Oakes lifted Hart’s head. She was staring at the ceiling, irises vanishinh behind her eyelids. He slapped her across the cheek, leaving a bloody hand-print tattooed on her pale skin. “Look at me. Look at me! Head in the game, Hart!”
Corporal Hart sighed. Her head rolled back. She died with her eyes open.
Oakes was the last of the Brontes.
– – –
A year between chapters is too long, I know. But with XCOM 2 out, I have to hurry this up. Not many missions left to transcribe… not many XCOM operatives left to fight. But we’ll see.
If you’ve enjoyed The B-Team so far and want to support me in finishing it, why not check out my horror serial Rust? It’s spooky, it’s gory, it’s getting good reviews and it’s only a couple of bucks. Less than a cup of coffee!