• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Macavity116

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Ever since mankind first looked up at the stars, we have wondered what lies beyond. So very few have dared to look inward. The depths of the human mind hold more secrets than we can possibly imagine. How ironic that the means to defeat our enemies comes not from weapons or machines of war, but from within. And if we have succeeded, we will have gained a glimpse of what we are to become.

We will have created something… extraordinary.



Gathered friends, please listen to the third and final part of my tale...




Previous installments in The Stormbreaker Trilogy:

  1. After Everything - A Stellaris Story (March to November 2018)
  2. Faith in Chaos - A Stellaris Story (January to June 2019)
  3. DosiAARs - Prelude to The Stormbreakers (August to September 2019)

The Stormbreakers - Table of Contents
 
Last edited:
Prologue: Children of the Gods

Macavity116

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Prologue
Children of the Gods



Dappled sunlight filtered gently into the temple chamber through the ceiling, which was as clear as glass yet solid as steel. Over one mile of ocean water lay above this sanctified room. Schools of fish flitted past the undersea structure, keeping their eyes on it as though they expected it to grow teeth and attack.

The temple chamber itself was ornate and beautiful. Images of tall beings, clothed in magnificent robes and helmets, were carved from gold and towered over the room. A constellation of symbols and hieroglyphs were carved into the floor, dividing the room into four equal quadrants and drawing the eye towards the central shrine. The room had only one exit: a pressurized airlock that led deeper into the colossal undersea complex.

With a series of clicks and hisses, the airlock door opened and allowed a tall slender being to enter. He was humanlike in appearance, but on closer inspection, it was plainly obvious that this… thing had not been Human for a very long time.

Gur-Mon Madron wore subtle, muted colors that made him difficult to spot from across the room. His eyes glowed with fantastic purple light, but were impossible to see from anywhere other than directly in front of him owing to the hood he always wore. Madron had barely taken two steps into the temple chamber before stopping in his tracks. He wasn’t called the Elder’s Chosen Hunter for nothing. He could sense another presence in the room.

Slowly… quietly… Madron reached up and unshouldered his hunting rifle. The Darklance was the finest, most accurate, and most powerful firearm that had ever seen service in the Second Hyperspace War. Only one existed in the entire Galaxy, and now the Chosen Hunter aimed this lethally accurate weapon into a darkened corner of the room where the shadow of a gold statue was hiding someone.

Looking down the sights and into the scope, Madron mused to himself:

“It would be so easy…”

Lazily, without any real thought going into it, Madron’s finger began to slip inside the trigger well.

Two pinpricks of purple light flickered in the shadows, then went out. Suddenly, Madron felt a strong tugging sensation on his back! His weapon fell to his side as two irresistible forces clamped down on his arms like a vice! Then Madron heard a soft hissing noise as his attacker became visible once more.

The Elder’s Chosen Assassin could have killed Madron in that moment. Having grabbed him from behind, she had pressed her Katana into his chest with one hand while holding the little Shoto Blade to his throat with the other. Madron turned his head, gave the Assassin a look he knew would make her angry and said:

“Good to see you, sister.”

The Chosen Assassin bared her teeth at Madron and hissed.

She wanted to kill him.

He wanted to kill her.

But before either of the Chosen could do or say anything else, a deep booming voice filled the whole chamber, causing the Assassin and the Hunter to let go of each other.

“Miscreants.”

The voice of Kon-Mon Dessurik, the Elder’s Chosen Warlock, rolled across the temple like an approaching thunderstorm. Each of his footfalls made the floor tremble, and the air around him shimmered as raw Psionic energy radiated away from his massive body.

“Restrain yourselves.” Dessurik commanded. “Lest you be restrained.”

Reflexively, Madron took a step back from the Assassin and raised his Darklance, taking aim at the Warlock and putting one finger on the trigger. This time, the Assassin stepped directly into the line of fire and put one hand on the barrel of the rifle, forcing Madron to lower it.

“No!” she spoke in a raspy, strangled whisper. “The three of us… called upon together? Something has changed.”

She cast a look at the Warlock.

“On that we are agreed.” Dessurik replied. “The battlefield has shifted. Our masters have need of us once more.”

The Chosen Hunter scoffed.

“Sounds to me like they’re afraid.”

This was the wrong thing to say. Something seemed to snap within the Chosen Warlock. Dessurik clenched both of his fists and bright purple Soulfire ignited in his palms! Pointing one burning finger at Madron, Dessurik shouted:

“You DARE defile this place with your wretched tongue!?"

With a mischievous smirk, the Hunter answered:

“Oh, I dare…

The conversation was over.

The Warlock began to charge a powerful Psionic attack, his whole body enveloped in flickering Soulfire.

The Hunter took aim with his Darklance, putting the crosshair right between the Warlock’s eyes.

The Assassin crouched low and began to draw her Katana, aiming to strike at the Hunter’s trigger-hand.

Before the fight could start, the Chosen were interrupted! A pillar of brilliant violet light shot up from the shrine in the center of the temple, scattering through the transparent ceiling before being diffused by the seawater above. All three of the Chosen stopped preparing to attack, disarmed themselves, and fell to their knees in reverence while the image of an Ethereal began to resolve itself. Hovering in the air above the shrine, it looked down upon the three warriors.

“Our children…” The Angelis Ethereal spoke in a motherly tone, sounding almost kind and friendly. “Each of you possess our strength, each of you possess our wisdom. Of all our creations, you are truly blessed.”

The three Chosen smiled inwardly to themselves. The Angelis Ethereal continued:

“Your charge was a simple one: The subjugation of all those who would see our grand design falter. We have been pleased… until now.

Those inner smiles turned to much more horrified expressions. The Angelis Ethereal’s voice became a little cold:

“The New One has returned to the battlefield, many years after we thought it to have been lost at the hands of our strongest. We are disappointed."

The Assassin tried to hide her ignorance.

The Warlock tried to hide his embarrassment.

The Hunter tried to hide his contempt. He failed.

“Thought you were the strongest.” Madron mumbled under his breath.

The floating image of the Angelis Ethereal suddenly became a lot less angelic. Its fury and rage became known at once! A column of Psionic energy descended from above and struck the Hunter! Wracked with intense pain, Madron hunched over while Dessurik smirked in a satisfied way. The Angelis Ethereal admonished the Hunter a terrifying voice:

“Arrogance! Defiance! You have walked among the Humans for too long! You have been corrupted. You can be reclaimed.

Just as quickly as the bombardment had started, it stopped. Allowed to raise his head at last, Madron saw the Angelis Ethereal revert to a less-demonic form. In an almost sweet voice, it said:

“Yet perhaps, you may also be redeemed. Perhaps you all may be redeemed… A greater battle still lies ahead…”

Psionic energy washed over the temple and swirled around the three Chosen. Their minds were filled with images from the Second Hyperspace War… memories of all that had come before, all that had been lost:

The Warlock witnessed the Blorg Homeworld succumbing to the Beast, turning a sickly black and red color. In the orbit above, Blorg warships turned against one another as the biomechanical virus began to spread across the fleet.

The Hunter saw the Taiidani attempting to unleash a superweapon against the Beast, only for the creature to subvert the weapon and turn it against its masters. A whole armada, thousands of people, wiped out by the thing that was supposed to be their savior.

The Assassin saw a Partogan Hyperspace Gate being attacked and bombarded by Partogan warships while an endless stream of infected starships poured out of the gate. As the gate itself is demolished, a handful of infected ships run the blockade and escape into Hyperspace.

All three of the Chosen saw a vast armada of warships assemble in the Alpha Centauri star system, massing into a colossal combined fleet, then depart as one. Partogan, Levakian, Assurian, Micore, Kelt, Vanian, and Amadii warships all flew in formation together, united by their common destination… Earth.

The visions faded, but the dark implications were burned into the minds of the Chosen.

“Our time on this world draws to a close.” The Angelis Ethereal said, “Yet we need not abandon it completely at our departure, for one among you is surely ready to claim this world as their own. One among you is worthy.”

The Chosen began to shoot suspicious glances at one another, sizing each other up.

The Angelis Ethereal resumed its terrifying voice and appearance, all the better to make its will perfectly clear:

Bring the New One to us. Crush all who would stand in your way. To the one that succeeds: our everlasting favor! To the others…”

The silence was the only explanation the Chosen needed. They looked up at the Angelis Ethereal and nodded their understanding.

“You are the Chosen! Do not fail us. Now GO!”


 
Last edited:

Vilhelm

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Hey, first post! Sorry, it had to be done...
 

HistoryDude

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That start is interesting...

Also, makes me wonder if Jericho is the New One?
 

Macavity116

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Hey, first post! Sorry, it had to be done...
That start is interesting...
Welcome back to both of you!


Also, makes me wonder if Jericho is the New One?
Oh yes, they were talking about Jericho herself. Question is, why would the Elders and their Chosen take an interest in her at all? They seem to have a much bigger problem on their hands, 'cause I assure you: that multinational armada coming towards Earth isn't looking for a friendly chat over a cup of tea. ;)
 

Nikolai

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Very interesting. :)
 

Macavity116

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Chapter 1: The Hero of Another Story

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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Chapter One
The Hero of Another Story


Caption said:
One of the many Unification Day monuments built all over the ADVENT Megacities on Earth. These statues celebrate the day when the Elders decended from the heavens and began their uplift of Humankind.

My girlfriend spent her twentieth birthday saving my life.

I’ve heard people say that the first words of a story are the most important. They grab the reader and pull them in, and that it’s a waste of time to describe things like the weather or the color of the grass and so on. It might bore people. I don’t wanna do that. I’ve got a really big story to tell. It’s about the end of… well, not the world, but the end of life, the Universe… everything, really. It’s the end of history itself. That’s the story I want to tell.

A long time ago, I was a hero in my own right… but my story ended a while ago. I’m here to tell about Jericho. I was alive at the same time as Jericho, I knew her real name; fought by her side in a lot of battles. I was right next to Jericho during her highest and lowest moments… but I never knew… I never could have predicted... how her story was going to end. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m writing this… so that somebody out there knows who Jericho was, what she did, and why she did it.

So, my story might have ended a long time ago, but you need to know the basics of what happened to me if you’re going to understand the role I played in Jericho’s life. Let me explain:

My name is Blake. Blake Alexander Robinson. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably read about me in a history book. See, my father was J.D. Robinson. Yes! You read that right! THE J.D. Robinson: 6th President of the United States. He’s the guy who won the Presidential Election despite winning the popular vote in only eleven out of fifty states.


Caption said:
On November 9, 2004, the Presidency of George White was brought to a sudden end by a Michigander named J.D. Robinson. Historians agree that Robinson "played" the US Electoral College, exploiting the system to secure his own election to the Presidency despite losing the popular vote by nearly 15 million votes.
God, I hated living in the White House. If you ever look at those pictures of the Inauguration Ceremony, you can see me and my sister Jackie sulking next to the podium. Anyway, things weren’t bad for that long. I made friends with a Secret Service agent named Kathleen Walsh, and the two of us still have a good relationship to this day. But other than hanging out with Agent Walsh, I hated life in Washington for the first few months. All my dad cared about was stopping some kind of “border crisis” in Asia from spinning out of control and turning into a war.

Then there was the big state dinner about a few months after the Inauguration. Dad signed some kind of treaty that made an alliance between America and Japan. It was supposed to prevent a huge war between Japan and the Soviet Union, and we celebrated by inviting about 200 important Japanese people over to the White House for a state dinner. That’s where I met the girl I’m going to marry soon. Back then, her name was Princess Asami Yamato. She was a member of the Japanese Imperial Family. I never found out how she was related to the Emperor, but I heard Asami call him “Uncle” a few times, so they were definitely blood relatives.

Princess Asami was the only person who believed me when I said there was a ghost haunting the White House. She was so interested that we both snuck out of the state dinner and we set up a stakeout in the Lincoln bedroom, trying to catch the ghost. Agent Walsh caught us and raised hell about the whole thing. Lucky for us, both of our families were really anxious to make the America-Japan friendship as real as possible, so they allowed Asami and I to have a long-distance relationship under close supervision. Princess Asami was the most valuable person in my life. She made my first two years in the White House worthwhile.

About a year after I met Asami, I made my first footprint in history. Again, if you’ve ever read an American history book, you know what I’m going to say: I saw Vice President MacDonald taking a bribe from a lobbyist. I didn’t understand what I saw because I was just an idiotic preteen at the time. I called a news reporter who I was on a first-name basis with and asked them to explain to me what I saw.

The investigation happened so quickly that no one ever tied the discovery back to me. Turns out Vice President MacDonald was selling his tiebreaking Senate vote to the highest bidder. That’s called “Corruption.” After word got out, Vice President MacDonald was impeached and removed from office. It was a whole big thing, and I don’t wanna go into it again.

The important thing is that a couple of months after the Impeachment trial, the Soviet Union invaded Japan.


Caption said:
The Battle of Sapporo. December 12, 2006.
It was the war my dad had been trying to prevent ever since the first day of his Presidency. The Russians overran Hokkaido Island and tried to consolidate their gains, but there was a rouge general named Sidrov who wanted to turn all of Japan into some kind of communist puppet state. We didn’t find out about this until afterward, but General Sidrov violated orders when he invaded Honshu Island itself with his Red Army. He was going for Tokyo, so Princess Asami and her family ran away and hid.

I was so scared for my girlfriend; I’d have nightmares about what might happen if the Russians caught her. I wasn’t allowed in the White House Situation Room, so I had some aides transform my bedroom into my own personal war room. Maps on the wall everywhere, and a special hotline that I could use to talk to Princess Asami whenever I wanted. We kept this going for years while the Soviet Invasion of Japan got bogged down in a stalemate.

Anyway, during that time, America changed. We funneled almost half-a-million soldiers into the war in Japan. It changed American culture by militarizing everybody. You couldn’t take two steps in an American city without crossing paths with somebody carrying a gun, wearing camouflage, or both. Meanwhile, Dad used an executive order to force Puerto Rico to become the 51st State. It almost stopped him from getting re-elected in 2008. It was a really close call, but he got back into the White House for another four years.

Then, in 2010, I lost contact with Asami. She just… vanished. I called everybody in her family. I even got the Emperor himself on the line for a few seconds once. No one knew where she’d gone, but they all had an idea. Asami had gotten frustrated with hiding from the Russians for so long. She ran away from home and joined the Japanese military under a false identity. She wanted to fight!

I was terrified! All I could think about was the girl I loved getting captured, killed, or worse. I made up some story about wanting to show all of America that I was supporting the war effort, and Dad signed some paperwork that allowed me to join the US Army right after my seventeenth birthday. Afterward, I found out that Asami was fourteen when she enlisted, but she lied to the recruiters and told them she was sixteen. How she got away with it, I still don’t know. She refuses to answer that question to this day.

In 2011, I finally got out of Basic Training and joined the Signal Corps. It’s a part of the US Army that deals with communication technology. I thought I could use the knowledge and tech to find Asami. Then, finally, I got myself shipped out to Japan!

I fought on the Japanese Front of World War Three for about 15 months. When I landed in Sendai, I fell in with an international squad of soldiers. A British woman named Holly Smith, an Australian guy we liked to call Soylent Green, (not his real name, sadly) two Americans named Hal Macintosh and Aaron Ray, and three Japanese people: Kotori Sato, Yukiko Takahashi and Yukata Yamamoto. We were one hell of a team! We had a real knack for area-denial operations. You could point out any location on a map and we would hold it against anything! Nobody could pass through our territory without paying a price in blood.

While the crew and I were fighting our way across Honshu, trying to find Asami, she was having adventures of her own. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force stationed her aboard an aircraft carrier called the Hyuuga. She was safe for a while, hunting submarines in the Tsushima Strait for almost a year. By pure good luck, my crew and I got reassigned to defend an Anti-Aircraft battery in Okinawa right when the Hyuuga was passing by in the spring of 2012.


Caption said:
The sinking of the JSDF Hyuuga. June 2, 2012. The Soviet submarine Samara claimed credit for the kill.
The Hyuuga got jumped by the very thing it was hunting. A Soviet submarine torpedoed the carrier and it sank a few miles off the coast of Okinawa. That’s when Asami did the one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard of… She swam all the way to Okinawa. She swam fully clothed for over five miles through cold saltwater until she washed up in a small cove just to the west of Cape Hedo on the northern shore of Okinawa Island. We found her wandering along the highway near Kunigami Village about a week later.

I was really happy to reunite with Princess Asami, but I had a hard time getting used to her new moniker. Asami had changed her name to “Chiho Tatsuya” to she could keep up her secret life in the Japanese military. The two of us got into a huge argument over whether or not I should take her back to her family. (I just wanted Chiho to be safe!) Eventually, we compromised: Chiho would join my crew and we would travel together to Osaka, where the Imperial family was living at the time. The plan was that Chiho would make a decision about her future when we reached Osaka. Unfortunately, the Soviet Red Army got there first. Our team got chased all over southern Japan while the US/Japanese forces got pushed back by the Communists again and again. Our side was collapsing.

One more time, though, we got lucky. The Soviets overextended themselves. They outpaced their supply lines and starved themselves out. Back home, (their home) the Soviet Union was starting to collapse. Turns out a six-year long foreign war is bad for an unstable political system. Because the Soviet empire was falling apart, the entire war just turned into a race against the clock. The Japanese and their allies were just trying to hold out until the Soviet Union collapsed.

Holly and I figured out that the Japanese Imperial Family had gone to Hiroshima, so that’s where we went next. Chiho made her choice when we got to the city: She wanted to leave her old life behind forever and just stay with my team as a permanent addition to the group. Thing is, the Soviets showed up in Hiroshima right after we did.


Caption said:
Undated photo from the Siege of Hiroshima. (December 3 to 22, 2012)
There was a huge artillery bombardment, one of the biggest of the war. The Soviets knew exactly where and how to hit our side. They killed most of the officers and commanders on our side, leaving us in complete confusion. Aaron, Kotori, Chiho and I investigated, trying to figure out how the enemy had dialed in our number so effectively. We went all over Hiroshima, trying to find the mole. Along the way, we crossed paths with the Imperial Family and Chiho finally got caught. The Prime Minister and Emperor of Japan were both outraged with Chiho for running away and joining the military. They stripped Chiho of her royal status and name, reducing her to just an ordinary commoner. Then they sent her back to us, like we were some kind of penal battalion. After a couple days, Chiho recovered from the whole ordeal, (as much as she could in the circumstances) and permanently joined our team under her new name: Chihiro Tachibana. Then we went back to investigating.

That when we found out that we’d been betrayed!

Yukiko Takahashi and Yukata Yamamoto, two members of my team, had been on the Soviet payroll for almost a year. Damn near broke my heart when I found out, because I had to try to kill my own friends. I guess my heart wasn’t in it, because they both got away. Yukiko vanished completely and didn’t reappear for a few years. Yukata came back and tried to pick a fight with us one more time. He tried to kill Chihiro by shooting her in the neck, but she lived. (Thank God!) I shot him in the chest, but he lived, too.

It wasn’t a waste, though. We got the Russian battle plans from Yukata before he fled. Chihiro and I got our team together and we made a plan to stop the Russian attack on Hiroshima. Kotori Sato called it the “Storm-Breaker Defense.” And it worked! Because all of the officers on our side were dead, it was easy for our team to take command of the defenders. We organized the best defense we could, and like I said: It worked! The Soviet army hit our wall and broke itself!

Anyway, while all of that was happening, the war ended! The Soviet Union had collapsed. With no country to fight for, the Russian invaders just… stopped fighting. Just like that.

And all of Japan knew who held Hiroshima during the eleventh hour! We were heroes! Everybody in Japan knew our names and we couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized. They called us “Stormbreakers” after Kotori’s defense plan. Holly, Soylent, and Hal all left and went back to their home countries. Aaron and Kotori got married and moved to America.

While I was in Japan, my Dad had decided not to run for a third term, so when the 2012 Presidential Election happened, somebody else ended up winning the White House. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going home anyway. Chihiro and I decided to stay in Japan and help the people rebuild. Finding a place to stay wasn’t hard: we saved the life of a young girl during the Siege of Hiroshima. Tsubaki Endo started to hero worship us… a lot. Seriously! Tsubaki was obsessed with Chihiro and I to a disturbing level. She’s got a damn shrine to us in her home. I’ve seen it! Anyway, Tsubaki’s family owned a really successful restaurant in Nagasaki, and she convinced them to put us up in an apartment nearby. Chihiro and I lived there until… yeah… until that happened.

I still have a hard time believing it… but in 2015… Earth was invaded by aliens.

Goddamn, I still can’t believe I lived through it.

The first disappearances happened in February and March of 2015. Every day, when we turned on the news, there would be a story about people of all ages just… vanishing! And it wasn’t just laypeople. Every few days, a famous celebrity or politician would just… poof! And they’d be gone. The whole world was frightened and confused. But then, in April, the war really started. The aliens came out into the open! It was the most brutal war in human history.

Caption said:
An alien warship appears over Shanghai in 2015.
They bombarded cities, sabotaged transportation hubs, and wrecked as much infrastructure as they could. It was all kinds of hell. Chihiro and I tried to escape from Nagasaki and just lay low, but we were tracked down by these elite military operatives and… well, I can’t say we were “recruited” can I? We got drafted into XCOM: the most elite paramilitary force on Earth. Somebody told them about how Chihiro and I were part of an international squad during World War 3, and they wanted us on XCOM’s team. They thought we’d already have the teamwork skills they needed.

Working for XCOM was a mixed bag. On the good side, we got to reunite with the old Stormbreakers. Holly, Hal, Soylent, and Korori were all there. Kotori’s husband Aaron wasn’t there. He was the very first human to be killed by alien weapons during the invasion, right at the beginning of the war. Chihiro and I went out on a bunch of missions with Holly, Hal, and Soylent. We saved a lot of lives and rescued some people who got abducted by the aliens. We also captured some alien technology, but that leads to the bad side of working for XCOM:

The Jericho Program.

The lead scientist of XCOM was this crazy half-French, half-German lady called Vahlen. She was obsessed with this extraterrestrial substance we captured called “Meld.” It had the ability to seamlessly bond human DNA to alien DNA. Vahlen wanted to graft alien genetic material into humans, thinking it would give us the same powers and abilities the aliens do. Her end goal was for XCOM to field an army of Genetically Modified supersoldiers against the aliens. Chihiro and I each got a few Gene Mods, but nothing too extreme. We're still Human.


Caption said:
A summation of Blake Robinson's genetic modifications.
Doctor Vahlen was saving the extreme stuff for her most insane idea: You see, one of the very last things our old friend Aaron did before he died was getting his wife Kotori pregnant. Doctor Vahlen removed the embryo from Kotori and… used Meld to graft Ethereal DNA straight into the fetus. The Ethereal is the most powerful alien out there. They’re on a whole other level from everybody else. Some people have called them gods…

And Vahlen pumped a baby Human full of their goddamned DNA. Kotori's child was going to be half-Ethereal.

All of XCOM was divided on the subject of the Jericho Program. It turned into a real schism towards the end. Some people, like Soylent Green, supported the idea of Gene Modding Kotori’s baby. Sane people, like Chihiro and myself, opposed it. We argued long and hard against the Jericho Program. As far as we were concerned, Kotori’s half-alien baby was an abomination. We figured that the Jericho baby would turn out to be just as dangerous as a real Ethereal. Aliens themselves are already dangerous, a half-alien is just as so.

Ultimately, though, the whole debate was meaningless. XCOM Headquarters was attacked and overrun by the aliens. The Stormbreakers barely got out with their lives. Chihiro and I got separated from the rest of the team, but we rejoined the Stormbreakers a few weeks later. While XCOM was trying to regroup, though… Earth surrendered.


Caption said:
Press photo from the Unification Day parade in Paris, Western Europe. March 1, 2035. Soldiers pictured are members of the ADVENT Army's European Command group.
While the Aliens were trying to get their new world government set up, all of the XCOM survivors escaped from the continental US with Kotori in tow. The aliens were winning, and we were desperate. We all decided to take the risk and allow Kotori’s baby to be born. We were all playing the long game at this point. The hope was that Kotori’s baby would grow up to become a powerful Psionic warrior who could spearhead the next generation’s war against the alien occupiers.

In hindsight, it’s kinda disgusting to think about. None of us even once thought about Kotori’s baby as… well... a baby. To all of us, that child was a weapon. A weapon that would one day walk and talk… but a weapon nonetheless.

An XCOM operative named Lee Chong-Il hooked us up with a North Korean submarine called the Enforcer. They took us off the Oregon coastline and sailed us out to Hawaii. We all thought we’d be safe there, and that Kotori’s baby could be raised in relative isolation and safety. We were so desperate, that we were blinded.

The enemy caught up with us right as we landed. We left the Enforcer on the shoreline of Kauai Island and fled further inland. Eventually, the aliens chased us to the Kauai Veterans Cemetery just outside the town of Hanapepe. Unfortunately, Kotori went into labor while we were crossing the graveyard. I ordered the Stormbreakers to set up defensive positions around the Mausoleum where Kotori would give birth.

At nine o’clock in the morning on September 11th, 2015, Kate Asuna Ray was born. Although, throughout this story, she’ll mostly be referred to as Jericho. I was physically in the area when she was born, but I didn’t witness it. The aliens broke our perimeter. The last thing I remember was a Muton hitting me in the head with the butt of its rifle.

The next thing I remember after that: I woke up in a sterile-looking room. It was definitely some kind of laboratory, but the scientists were all gone, and four of the most ragged-looking soldiers I’d ever seen were staring at me. They took me out of the lab and made me run through a futuristic-looking city I didn’t recognize at the time. The escape was a blur to me. All I remember was a wide array of advanced technology, spaceships, and someone telling me it was the future.


Caption said:
The Megacity of Los Angeles. After the 2015 conflict, the ADVENT Coalition encouraged all of Humanity to migrate away from the countryside and into densely populated urban areas such as these. There are some three hundred Megacities on Earth. Thousands of other cities were completely depopulated and abandoned.
Later, I found out just how bad it was: The aliens had kept all of the Stormbreakers, including myself, in stasis for twenty years. Chihiro, Soylent, Holly, Hal, and I had all slept away two decades of our lives!

While we’d been unconscious, the aliens had conquered Earth and forced all of Humankind to live under a collaborator-puppet government called the ADVENT Coalition. XCOM itself was scattered across the planet, desperately trying to unite various resistance groups into a genuine rebellion. The ADVENT Coalition had held onto the stasis tubes containing the Stormbreakers. Apparently, they periodically woke us up to do experiments on us… but I don’t remember any of that. I don’t want to remember.

XCOM freed us as part of a mission called “Operation Gatecrasher.” No sooner had the Stormbreakers been rescued from captivity, than the Commander of XCOM herself was also rescued. Laura Harper was just as happy to see us as we were to see her.

Chihiro, Holly, Hal, Soylent, and I took about a month to fully adapt to life in the 2030’s. Not only did we skip twenty years of our lives, but our bodies only seem to have aged a few weeks. (or months in Chihiro’s case) For all intents and purposes, I’m still 22 years old and Chihiro is still 19, even though by sheer numbers alone, we’re actually 42 and 39, respectively. All of our family members are dead. They were either killed during the initial invasion or purged by ADVENT during the intervening years. All Chihiro and I have are each other now.

And that’s it. That’s my life story, the broad strokes of it, anyway. I’ve left out enough details to fill a very large book. Hopefully, now that you know my background, you’ll have a better understanding of what role I’m going to play in this tale. All of the setup is done, so let me start telling the story of Jericho, and how she ended the Second Hyperspace War:


My girlfriend spent her twentieth birthday saving my life...

 
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HistoryDude

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Well, that was an interesting background story... Can’t wait for more.


You say that this story will end with the end of days? I wonder if it is the permanent end of days… or just the beginning of the 117th Cycle, which is equivalent to the 1st…
 

Macavity116

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I, uh, think you skipped a few Presidents there.
Oh, yeah. I skipped almost three dozen of them. As you'll see in a future chapter, the background/worldbuilding of Stormbreaker Trilogy assumes that the events of the videogame The Bureau: XCOM Declassified happened without any changes or alterations. This means that from October 1962 to July 1963, the Earth was attacked and subjected to a failed colonization attempt by an alien civilization called the Zudjari. During this time, the United States of America as a political entity briefly ceased to exist. Once the Outsider Invasion was repulsed, XCOM leadership helped re-establish the US Government. The alien invasion was covered up and a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was blamed for the disruption. Since the 1963 America is a different entity from the 1776 America, the counting of Presidents was restarted from there. It took the democratic system a little longer to reassert itself.

Here is the full list of US Presidents in this alternate history setting:
  1. Myron Faulke
    • July 15, 1963 to January 20, 1965
    • No Vice President
    • XCOM
  2. Richard Nixon
    • January 20, 1965 to March 8, 1985
    • Vice President:
      1. Barry Goldwater (1965 to 1980)
      2. Ronald Regan (1980 to 1985)
    • Republican Party
  3. Ronald Regan
    • March 8, 1985 to January 20, 1989
    • Vice President:
      1. George H.W. Bush
    • Republican Party
  4. George H.W. Bush
    • January 20, 1989 to January 20, 2001
    • Vice President:
      1. Dan Quayle (1989 to 1993)
      2. George White (1993 to 2001)
    • Republican Party
  5. George White
    • January 20, 2001 to January 20, 2005
    • Vice President:
      1. June Syers
    • Republican Party
  6. J.D. Robinson
    • January 20, 2005 to January 20, 2013
    • Vice President:
      1. Trevor MacDonald (2005 to 2007)
      2. Barack Obama (2007 to 2009)
      3. Alexis Alexander (2009 to 2013)
    • National Party
  7. Alexis Alexander
    • January 20, 2013 to June 28, 2015
    • Vice President:
      1. Nathan Elliot (2013 to 2015)
    • National Party
  8. William Thorne
    • September 30, 2015 to February 11, 2017
    • No Vice President
    • ADVENT Coalition
Once the Earth was conquered the second time, the US government once again disappears from the map, but if the survival of the XCOM project is any indication, then we should assume its still out there, biding its time.


You say that this story will end with the end of days? I wonder if it is the permanent end of days… or just the beginning of the 117th Cycle, which is equivalent to the 1st…
Only one way to find out. Back in Faith in Chaos, somebody said that our destinies aren't written in stone, and that we can fight back against predestination. But the Paradox and the wounded-but-still-living Shroud Beings are out there, ready to force history onto the "right track".

But be warned, the Paradox has an unlikely ally in the last place you'd possibly look. This will be a long story, and by no means an easy fight.

Next week: The story begins!
 
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The last place you’d possibly look… I feel like this is the End of the Cycle, as they are sworn enemies… or perhaps it is Jericho, or *gasp* the Beast?
 

Macavity116

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The last place you’d possibly look… I feel like this is the End of the Cycle, as they are sworn enemies… or perhaps it is Jericho, or *gasp* the Beast?
You made three guesses as to who the Paradox's unexpected ally is.

One of them is correct.

I love it when readers figure out a hint or notice what's being foreshadowed. Never stop doing that. :D
 

Vilhelm

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Oh, yeah. I skipped almost three dozen of them. As you'll see in a future chapter, the background/worldbuilding of Stormbreaker Trilogy assumes that the events of the videogame The Bureau: XCOM Declassified happened without any changes or alterations. This means that from October 1962 to July 1963, the Earth was attacked and subjected to a failed colonization attempt by an alien civilization called the Zudjari. During this time, the United States of America as a political entity briefly ceased to exist. Once the Outsider Invasion was repulsed, XCOM leadership helped re-establish the US Government. The alien invasion was covered up and a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was blamed for the disruption. Since the 1963 America is a different entity from the 1776 America, the counting of Presidents was restarted from there. It took the democratic system a little longer to reassert itself.

Here is the full list of US Presidents in this alternate history setting:
  1. Myron Faulke
    • July 15, 1963 to January 20, 1965
    • No Vice President
    • XCOM
  2. Richard Nixon
    • January 20, 1965 to March 8, 1985
    • Vice President:
      1. Barry Goldwater (1965 to 1980)
      2. Ronald Regan (1980 to 1985)
    • Republican Party
  3. Ronald Regan
    • March 8, 1985 to January 20, 1989
    • Vice President:
      1. George H.W. Bush
    • Republican Party
  4. George H.W. Bush
    • January 20, 1989 to January 20, 2001
    • Vice President:
      1. Dan Quayle (1989 to 1993)
      2. George White (1993 to 2001)
    • Republican Party
  5. George White
    • January 20, 2001 to January 20, 2005
    • Vice President:
      1. June Syers
    • Republican Party
  6. J.D. Robinson
    • January 20, 2005 to January 20, 2013
    • Vice President:
      1. Trevor MacDonald (2005 to 2007)
      2. Barack Obama (2007 to 2009)
      3. Alexis Alexander (2009 to 2013)
    • National Party
  7. Alexis Alexander
    • January 20, 2013 to June 28, 2015
    • Vice President:
      1. Nathan Elliot (2013 to 2015)
    • National Party
  8. William Thorne
    • September 30, 2015 to February 11, 2017
    • No Vice President
    • ADVENT Coalition
Once the Earth was conquered the second time, the US government once again disappears from the map, but if the survival of the XCOM project is any indication, then we should assume its still out there, biding its time.
Ah, thanks for clarifying. That explains why the USSR never collapsed and was still active in the 21st century.
 
Chapter 2: Welcoming Committee

Macavity116

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Chapter Two
Welcoming Committee


Caption said:
The Avenger is XCOM's mobile headquarters, built from a captured enemy supply ship.
Wednesday, May 2, 2035 – 6:30 a.m.
Near the Ruins of Pyongyang, Korean Peninsula



My girlfriend spent her twentieth birthday saving my life.

Looking back on it now, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Two months before this morning, I’d woken up in a strange science lab by someone telling me that I’d been asleep for twenty years, and that Earth had been conquered by aliens who were styling themselves as our “god-kings” or something ridiculous like that.

I’ve seen the Elders before they called themselves that. I know that the “gods” who rule over this world are actually monsters, and I’m glad I was found by like-minded folks. Now here I am, two months later. A bunch of old comrades from the last war are all in the Resistance with me, and we’re taking our world back from the Elders one day at a time.

After everything that’s happened before, I thought I’d never be taken by surprise again. I survived an alien invasion, fought an extraterrestrial god, and I was transported two decades into the future. I was sure I’d seen everything, and that nothing could ever phase me again…

Until that one Wednesday in North Korea.



I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up on that metaphorical “right side of the bed” but I did today. Looking up, several faces looked back down at me from three posters I’d taped to the ceiling. The first two posters were photographs: on one of them, Central Officer Bradford posed triumphantly with the corpse of the Viper King while a squad of exhausted but happy XCOM soldiers cheered triumphantly. On the other, Chief Engineer Lily Shen stood atop the ruins of the Lost Tower while a wrecked Sectopod smoldered at her feet.

My last poster wasn’t a blown-up photograph, but a recreation of a religious painting: A brown-skinned girl with blue hair and purple eyes hovered in space, her body shrouded in white fog. Beautiful angelic wings stretched out from her back and she held her hands above her head. Above her, the Earth itself hung in the star field between her wings and palms, as though she was holding it aloft. The person in the painting was Jericho, a legendary Psionic who had been single-handedly wreaking havoc on our enemies for the past two or three years. Despite dozens of attempts to recruit her, she had refused to join XCOM for some unknown reason, choosing to fight ADVENT alone.

If half of all the stories I’d heard about Jericho were true, then the artist hadn’t done her justice. If the other half of the stories were true… then the day Jericho joined XCOM would be both a blessing and a curse for me.

Tossing my sheets aside and sliding off the top bunk, I was off to a better start than most of my comrades today. Normally, everybody aboard the Avenger starts their day in a crummy mood, and it’s through no fault of their own.

XCOM’s mobile headquarters, a commandeered alien spaceship, is a very cramped place. There are only enough bunk beds in the living quarters for about 40 people, but today there are about 70 on board. We don’t get any privacy here, and no room is ever empty. When I jumped down from my top bunk, I grazed the bottom one and jostled the occupant awake. Rafal Kowalski, a Soviet soldier with a great big bushy beard, glared up at me.

“Should’a shot you in Hiroshima.” Rafal grumbled. Then he rolled over and went back to sleep.

“Yeah, yeah. Should’ve shot you too.” I mumbled in greeting.

I had to mumble. Standing here by my bunk, I was only about a foot away from the dull blue curtain that separated the male half of the living quarters from the female half. There were half a dozen men trying to sleep on my side of the room and presumably the same number of women on the other side doing the same thing. I pulled on my old US Army uniform and looked around for my patches. On my right shoulder went the American flag: 51 stars on a blue field with 13 red and white stripes. On my left shoulder was a square-shaped patch emblazoned with the Japanese Rising Sun. Everybody who’d defended the city of Hiroshima on the last day of World War Three had one of these patches. After that my rank insignia went in the middle of my chest. I’m a Cadet, by the way. In the US military, that’s the lowest possible officer rank. I’m basically a glorified Corporal with a little more power.

I remade the bedsheets and quietly threw my unused gear into my locker, so that the bunk would be clear for the soldier who would be sleeping here while I was gone. Right before I stepped out of the living quarters, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Oh boy, that African-American soldier in the reflection looked bad. My hair was starting to grow out of control and I needed a shave something fierce. I was still dirty from the last few days of excursions, but seeing as water was rationed pretty tightly aboard the ship, I had to just knuckle up and tough it out until it was my turn in the showers again. Hopefully my girlfriend wouldn’t notice the smell.

It was a short walk from the living quarters to the Barracks. In the mornings and evenings, the Barracks was converted into a ramshackle cafeteria just long enough to serve meals before being turned back again. I got there just as breakfast appeared on the buffet line, and some twenty members of XCOM were already queued up for food. I spotted my squad leader at the end of the line and joined her.

“G’morning, Colonel Smith.” I said.

British soldier Holly Smith has been my friend and comrade since the last war, when the Soviet Union gave Japan a bloody nose and was then torn to shreds in response. Holly was one of the original six members of my squad, the Stormbreakers, of whom only four are still alive. (Including myself) She did a double-take when she saw me coming in and widened her eyes at the sight of me.

“When did you get in last night, Robinson?” Holly said. “Did you even see the bloody troops I sent out to find you?”

“Saw’em and said hello.” I answered as I got in the back of the line. “They were coming down the ramp while I was going up. Did you get my After Action Report?”

“Got it. Haven’t read it.” Holly admitted. “You got bullet points?”

“I spotted an enemy scouting party moving away from us.” I answered. “They don’t know we’re here yet, so I let them go and reported their positions to Central. What time do we have to be on the Picket Line today?”

“Zero-eight-hundred.” Holly answered with a yawn. “Voodoo Squad’s been out there all night, and we’re only doing a ten-hour shift today.”

“Because the Avenger’s lifting off at eighteen-hundred hours tonight?”

“Yeah.”

I felt a little apprehensive. Normally, when word comes down that the ship is getting ready to take off, everybody gets excited about visiting another part of the world. Travelling all over the planet is, without question, the best perk of working aboard XCOM’s one and only spaceship. But not today. Everybody knew why the ship was going to leave Korea today.

“So…” I asked. “Do you know who’s going to be taking point in tomorrow’s assault?”

“Menace Squad, with Echo in reserve.” Holly answered automatically. “We’re sitting this one out, Robinson. The Commander thinks we need to spend more time integrating the FNG’s.”

FNG stands for… you know what? Let’s just say it’s a really mean nickname for a new soldier who’s only just joined the group. In this case, Holly’s talking about the two new soldiers who were supposed to be joining our squad today.

“The Kuznetsova twins?” I asked. “When are they supposed to get here?”

“Same time as our Japanese Resistance contact.” Holly replied. “They’re travelling together. I was told by the Commander that they’ll show up sometime around sixteen-hundred-hours this afternoon. I want you to take the Kuznetsovas around and introduce them to everybody, give’em a grand tour, then have Endo show them the women’s sleeping area.”

“You just picked me for the job ‘cause I’m right next to you, didn’t ya?”

“Aye. And people are sayin’ Soylent’s food is actually good today, so I’m not gonna pick on him now.”

Holly jabbed her thumb at the buffet line. Serving up some kind of unidentifiable slop was a gigantic black man whose face was covered in a Maori tattoo. Australian soldier Jake Green gave us a wave before going back to work. Everybody approached his station on the buffet line with a little caution. Whenever it was his turn to cook breakfast or dinner, the food and drink Captain Green served was notorious for being… well… disgusting.

“Hey, Robinson! Why the happy face?” Soylent called to me.

“Today is Chihiro’s birthday!” I answered. “She’s twenty!”

Holly put a hand on my shoulder and said to Soylent:

“Give him two servings, Green. And make one oversized for her!”

With Soylent’s permission, I cut to the front of the entire line, earning myself a mean look from Karmina Isra, a Palestinian woman with a sawn-off shotgun strapped to each of her legs. Soylent made me two takeout servings of… whatever this grey slop was supposed to be… and then slipped a metallic cylinder into my free hand.

“Tell Corporal Tachibana that this is my birthday gift to her.” Soylent whispered. “You did say she’s twenty today, right?”

“I did.” I answered nervously. “Soylent, please tell me you didn’t make this.”

Soylent put on a dramatic face and pretended to be offended.

“Cadet Robinson!” He said loudly, “I would never dare to even think about ruining the birthday of such a wonderful, beautiful young woman as Corporal Tachibana with sub-par drink!”

Soylent winked at me and dropped the act, saying with a sly smile:

“This is the real stuff from the Old World, mate. From our world. This is genuine Australian Victory Beer, vintage 2012. I know your girl’s a lightweight, so I’m givin’ you one now, and you can come back and get the other five for her tonight.”

He winked at me. I thanked him and then left with food in hand.



The Avenger was not defenseless on the ground. If someone tried to approach XCOM’s ship on foot from any direction, they wouldn’t get closer than a mile to the ship. That’s because of the Picket Line. A ring of soldiers encircled the Avenger, keeping watch for the enemy. Because these troops were a mile away, they would be able to give us plenty of warning time to prepare for an enemy approach.

Menace, Voodoo and Delta Squads had been holding the Picket Line all night, and as they returned to the Avenger for some well-earned sleep, Echo, Foxtrot, and Stormbreaker Squads departed the ship and started moving to take their place. At the bottom of the Avenger’s deployment ramp, I found my girlfriend hanging out with a few of our fellow squadmates.

Corporal Chihiro Tachibana stands out in a crowd. She’s the only member of the Stormbreakers who served in her home country’s navy before joining XCOM, which means that she wears a blue-and-grey naval uniform instead of the green and brown fatigues everyone else had. The red and white flag of Japan was centered on her upper back, obscured by her black hair. Her comrades, Tsubaki Endo and Matthew Hawkins, both tapped her on the shoulder and pointed me out as I approached.

“Good morning and happy birthday, Chi.” I said. “This stuff is better than usual, and this is for you, too.”

Chihiro gasped as she took the can of Old World beer from me. Our squadmate Matthew Hawkins thumped her on the back and said:

“Heya, Tachibana, you made it to twenty-one! Congrats! So... uh… you wanna share that beer?”

Chihiro gave him a mischievous look.

“What are you talking about?” She said playfully. “I’m from Japan, our drinking age is twenty… aaaannndd…

She looked at her wristwatch.

“My duty shift doesn’t start for another hour… so…”

Chihiro enthusiastically tried to pry the tab open, but ended up breaking it instead. Frustrated, she used her combat knife to split the can open and started drinking. Standing there in a battered two-decade-old naval aviation suit, drinking beer from a mutilated can while propping herself up against an M80 sniper rifle, Chihiro looked nothing like the shy, well-dressed and soft-spoken princess I’d met so long ago. Trying to reconcile the two images in my mind made me chuckle a little. When she finished, I passed the tray of breakfast food to her. Chihiro cautiously sniffed at the “meal” and wrinkled her nose.

“I hope that’s you I’m smelling and not the grub, Blake. No offence.”

Once Chihiro and I got some food (and in her case, drink) into our systems, we joined the other five Stormbreakers in waiting for the rest of our team to show up. Including me, there are thirteen of us: Chihiro Tachibana, Holly Smith, and Soylent Green have been part of the team with me since the very beginning over twenty years ago. Over the decades, a handful of other people have joined as well:

Lieutenant Matthew Hawkins hadn’t taught his old elementary school classes in over two decades, but that didn’t stop him from flipping through a history book to pass the time while we all waited. His grey eyes darted across the pages so quickly one might think he was a machine.

Private Tsubaki Endo was sitting on a tree stump and having a one-sided conversation with Chihiro. Basically, she was hanging onto every word my girlfriend said with obsessive fixation. While she listened to Chihiro’s descriptions of her birthday plans, Tsubaki absentmindedly picked at her cybernetic legs with her fingernails. Twenty years ago, during World War Three, Tsubaki had stepped on a landmine. The explosion blew off both of her legs. Nowadays, her prosthetic legs were so technologically sophisticated that she could run farther and faster than anyone else on the team.

Sergeant Hal Macintosh, a former police officer, gave Chihiro a disapproving look when he came down the deployment ramp and spotted the crushed beer can in her hand. He raised his eyebrows at me and shook his head.

Sergeant Kathleen Walsh has been a friend of mine since I was a little kid. She was a Secret Service agent working for my dad back when he was President of the United States. She still calls me by the codename the Secret Service used for me back then. “Trojan” is just as much my name as “Blake” these days. Walsh might have grey hair and wrinkles now, but she’s still pretty ferocious.

Sergeant Isis Dekker was followed across the grassy field by a small flying robot. The GREMLIN drone was standard issue equipment for all XCOM Specialists, but Isis had grown quite fond of her little machine. To be fair, GREMLIN drones were highly intelligent. Isis had even gotten hers to come when called by its name. Piper buzzed along through the air behind Isis, beeping and chirping like a loyal pet bird.

Chaplain Ignatius Petoskey and Sergeant Odette Fournier emerged from the Avenger together. They were both famous and well-known members of the French Resistance, and had spent the first part of the morning in meetings with other Resistance leaders, coordinating the global fight against the alien occupation of our world. Ignatius was really old, so he wasn’t wearing much armor and wasn’t carrying a weapon in his hands. Not like he needed one. Ignatius was Gifted, which meant he had a slew of Psionic powers at his disposal. His mind was far more dangerous than any gun.

In the two months I’ve lived in the future, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard Odette Fournier speak. She’s a black woman who seemed to be constantly on alert. Nobody could take her by surprise, but that also meant she hardly ever let her guard down, even amongst friends. When she caught up the group, Odette just kinda nodded at me and didn’t say anything.

Corporal Sophie Ackermann, a white South African, was so freakishly tall that I could see her coming from a hundred yards away. She was walking amongst several women who were part of Echo Squad, and she towered nearly a foot and a half above their heads. When Sophie fell in with the Stormbreakers, only Soylent was taller than her, but not by much.

Captain Jake “Soylent” Green himself departed the Avenger at the same time as Sophie, but he didn’t join us right away. He took a few moments to shower Sophie’s female friends with compliments, innuendoes, and pickup lines. A woman from Echo Squad giggled at Soylent’s antics, but before he could focus his attention onto her, Colonel Holly Smith grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him towards his own squad. The woman from Echo called after Soylent, suggesting he find her when he got off duty tonight.

Finally, Captain Yutaka Yamamoto was the thirteenth and last member of our team. He’s definitely the odd one out amongst us. During the war in Japan twenty years ago, Yutaka changed sides and got a bunch of my friends killed, he even tried to kill Chihiro. She’s still got a scar on her neck from where he shot her. Of course, once the aliens started to invade, conflicts like the Soviet-Japanese one became irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, if we weren’t trying to free our world from the aliens, I’d put Yutaka six feet under in a heartbeat. But the guy is a damn good fighter, he can kill aliens just as well as the rest of us, and he’s really good at treating plasma burns and gauss weapon injuries, so we keep him around. For now.

Once all thirteen Stormbreakers were assembled, Holly stepped onto a boulder so she could address all of us at once. I took my place next to her. Since the two of us had founded the team all the way back in World War Three, we were its leaders… or more specifically: Colonel Smith was the actual Squad Leader, and I was her deputy.

“Listen up, you lot!” Holly began. “We’ve got two orders of business today. First off, we’re expecting the FNG’s to arrive this afternoon with our Resistance Contact. The contact is a woman named Homura Hanako and she’s on her way here from Manchuria. Endo, Yamamoto, and Tachibana: You three will be making contact with her when she arrives. The challenge word is Firestorm. The password is Snowstorm. If she says anything different, you’re to assume she’s a Faceless and kill her straightaway. Am I clear?”

The Faceless are a race of alien shapeshifters. The enemy uses them to infiltrate and spy on our side.

“Sounds like a plan.” Chihiro acknowledged. “What about the FNG’s?”

“Both of the twins are using the same challenge and password.” Holly explained. “Same rules of engagement. Once we get the contact and our FNG’s, we return to the Avenger and prepare for takeoff. After the ship is airborne, I want everybody to go straight from chow to bed. Central and the Commander have got a big assault planned for tomorrow, and you all need your sleep.”

Kathleen pressed the barrel of her Sniper Rifle into the grass and rested her arms on top of the stock.

“Ya know, I always liked ‘ose two girls.” The former Secret Service agent said. “The Kuznetsova twins, I mean. I’m glad we’re finally getting ‘em on our team. Seemed kinda overdue if you ask me.”

“Agreed.” Yutaka said. “What’s the other thing you wanted to say, Boss?”

“I’m pretty sure you all know what that is.” A smile curled Holly’s mouth. “Today is our Blue Dragon’s birthday. Everyone be sure to wish her many happy returns before you move out.”

Hal Macintosh didn’t miss a beat.

“Twenty, huh?” The ex-cop said. “I think that means you should start the day with twenty pushups!”

Everyone gave fake dramatic gasps while Chihiro rolled her eyes and unshouldered her weapon. As I took the Sniper Rifle from her, she said sarcastically:

“Yes Sergeant.”

Even though she was wearing a bullet-proof vest that featured heavy ceramic plates on both the chest and back, Chihiro knocked out twenty pushups in less than half a minute and sprang back to her feet, sticking out her tongue at Hal as she snatched the rifle back from me.

“Robinson, you’re not going let her get away with that, are you?” Tsubaki giggled.

“Yeah, I’m not answering that.”

I caught Chihiro’s eye and winked at her. She laughed in that mischievous way I love so much and ruffled Tsubaki’s hair with one hand. Holly nodded at me and I raised my hand to get everyone’s attention.

“Okay, everyone. Let’s deal with the assignments and get moving.”

I bent down and drew a very crude map of the area in the dirt with one finger. While I spoke, I pointed out locations to my squadmates.

“This is our area of responsibility.” I began. “This neighborhood just beyond the end of the farmland is built right on the high ground. We’re gonna break up into three teams of four troops each and take that high ground. Chi, Walsh, Macintosh, and Ackermann: I want you on the roof of this warehouse. You’ll be doing Overwatch for the other two teams. Dekker, Colonel Smith, Yamamoto, and Endo: You’re going to take this concrete building and dig in. According the scouting parties, this structure has windows that face north and west. You’ll have plenty of good views. Hawkins, Soylent, and Fournier, you’re coming with me to set up observation on this two-story structure here on the extreme right flank. Chaplain Petoskey will stay with Colonel Smith and he’ll take Hanako and the FNG’s back to the Avenger when they show up. Does anyone have any questions?”

Kathleen raised her Sniper Rifle and aimed it towards a hill south of the neighborhood. It was covered in trees and slightly shorter than the high ground I’d just ordered my team to take. She stared down the scope, scanning the terrain.

“Do we ‘ave any eyes on the other side of that hill?” Kathleen asked. “Wha’s over there?”

“A highway.” I answered. “The scouts from Voodoo Squad have been keeping an eye on it. It leads right into downtown Pyongyang. We didn’t see any vehicles on it, though. If someone is there, the road junction is visible from the warehouse where we’re putting the Sniper Overwatch team. You’ll have eyes on it.”

No one else had any other questions. Holly checked her machine gun one last time and said:

“Let’s get started, callsigns only from here on out! Move out, team!”




Caption said:
Ever since the rise of the ADVENT Coalition, there are more abandoned towns like this on Earth than populated cities.
The small town with the high ground was a little less than a mile away from the Avenger , so it took us about half an hour to walk out there. The squad spread out into a big triangular formation, with Holly leading from the center. Moving as one, we crossed the farmland together. Holding my shotgun in one hand, I trudged along the dry arid ground with my girlfriend on my right. Absentmindedly, I gazed southward, to my left, scanning the horizon for any sign of the Pyongyang skyline. Chihiro followed my gaze and got a nostalgic look on her face.

“Oh, man. Do you remember the last time we were in that city?” Chihiro asked.

“Yeah, we smashed up most of downtown.” I chuckled. “The North Korean Army was lucky XCOM showed up when it did, the aliens were going to wipe them out!”

“I don’t think they ever stood a chance.” Chihiro agreed. “How much of Pyongyang do you think is still standing, anyway?”

“Maybe a couple of timbers.” I mused. “Definitely no whole buildings. The aliens did a number on that place while we were there. You remember the Sectopod crashing through the pyramid-shaped hotel?”

Chihiro laughed.

“The whole building came down on its head!” She roared. “I felt so stupid for wasting the bullets on it beforehand. Do you remember the-”

Chihiro and I spoke at the same time:

“High Altitude Lawyer Overwatch drops!?”

We both erupted in laughter, causing Odette, Hal, and Sophie to give us funny looks. We were reminiscing about the way aliens would drop out of UFO’s into Human cities, dressed up in disguises. These airdropped infiltrators would then try to pass themselves off as our people. Back in the day, it didn’t work.

“What the hell were the aliens thinking back then!?” Chihiro giggled. “Putting on a suit, tie, and round glasses isn’t enough to disguise yourself as a Human! Did they really think we were gonna fall for that!?”

From our right, Hal chimed in:

“Clearly they do. You ever seen those videos of ADVENT’s spokesman? I guarantee you he’s not Human!”

Sharing one more round of laughter, Chihiro and I kept reminiscing about the Battle of Pyongyang as we crossed the open fields. For most members of XCOM, that battle had been fought over twenty years ago, but Chihiro and I had spent those two decades in Stasis, so from our point of view, the Battle of Pyongyang had just been a few months ago. After a few stories were traded back and forth, the two of us started to relax and enjoy the morning sunlight.

A few more minutes of silence went by. By now, we’d left the Avenger behind and were about halfway to the end of the farmland. The village where we’d be meeting out contact was just ahead. As I squinted my eyes to get a better look at the distant buildings, I felt a familiar presence starting to creep into the back of my mind. For about half a second, my vision got foggy and I felt a little dizzy, but I recovered in a heartbeat.

“Oh, there you are.” I said casually.

Sorry. Said a slightly high-pitched voice in the back of my mind. I’m trying to get better. Was the connection any different than last time?

“You’re getting better.” I said. “I barely felt you come in that time.”

I looked to my right. Chihiro was giving me a very concerned look. When she spoke, she used the exact same voice I’d just heard.

“If you don’t like it, I can stop.” She said.

I shook my head.

“This was my idea, remember?” I said. “The only way I’ll ever get used to your new powers is if… you know… I get some exposure. Keep practicing.”

Getting transported 20 years into the future was already a jarring experience. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only thing that happened to us. While ADVENT had kept me and my companions in Stasis, they had performed a wide array of “science experiments” on us while we were unconscious. I had a handful of scars on my legs and torso where I’d been opened up. Holly and Soylent were both missing pieces of their organs, but poor Chihiro had gotten the worst of it.

While we’d been in enemy captivity, the aliens had performed a highly invasive brain surgery on Chihiro. She still had a big scar along the top of her scalp from it. After we were all rescued by XCOM, it had taken a few days for anyone to notice the effects of what the aliens had done to her. It started off as bouts of unexpected mind-reading. Chihiro seemed to know what people were going to say to her minutes in advance. Then she started moving small objects with her mind.

See, Chihiro had what we call The Gift. Somehow, the aliens had rewired her brain to the point where she could develop and use Psionic powers. Telepathy, telekinesis, stuff like that. She had become a genuine psychic! XCOM scientists have been studying the Gift ever since it started showing itself in Humans back in the early 1960’s. We have some understanding of how it works, but the science of Psionics is still mostly guesswork and theorycrafting.

Chihiro had to spend about two weeks in a meditation cell with XCOM’s other Gifted soldiers. Ignatius Petoskey and Cory Tucker gave her a crash course in how to harness and use her powers, but I was the one who has to deal with them most often. Suddenly, my girlfriend had the power to read my mind whenever she damn well felt like it. Unsurprisingly, there were no more secrets between us. We’ve adapted to the change as best we can, but I’m sure she’d agree with me that we both have a long way to go.

Luckily, we didn’t have much farther to go before reaching our destination.

“It’s a beautiful morning for a walk.” Chihiro sighed. “At least I got part of my birthday wish.”

“Wait a minute, you wanted to spend your twentieth birthday walking into possible enemy territory?” I was being sarcastic. She poked me in the ribs and gave me a sour look.

“Come on, Trojan! You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I still remember that talk. The whole world changed since we made those plans. Believe me, if I could go back in time and change the past, I’d do it. Your plan for a birthday date is a thousand times better than what we’re doing today.”

Chi made a little squeaking sound and gave me a one-armed hug as we walked along. She deliberately avoided placing her hand on my left-side pocket. We had an unspoken agreement that she would play dumb about the wedding ring hidden there until I showed it to her.

“Soon as we get off duty this evening, let’s hit the ship’s bar.” Chi said. “I wanna forget about the war just for a little bit, okay?”

“Done deal.” I agreed.




Caption said:
In the wilderness, far away from ADVENT's control, abandoned buildings like this can be quickly turned into Resistance Havens or XCOM strongpoints.
There are a few small towns scattered around the old North Korean capital city. They’re separated by hills and the occasional mountain. We can’t see Pyongyang from this little village, there’s a great big hill in the way, but we do have a very good view of the surrounding area. Chihiro and her fellow Sharpshooters declared the local warehouse to be the best “high ground” they’d seen in a while. Using the bipod attachment on her rifle, she entrenched herself on one of the rooftop air conditioners and soon had to main road locked down. Chihiro gave me a quick goodbye kiss before my team departed for their own destination.

Under the watchful eye of the Sharpshooters, the other two teams fanned out and swept through the abandoned neighborhood. We found a few dusty skeletons in a couple of houses, but for the most part, nobody’s lived here for two decades. Matthew, Odette, Soylent and I forced our way into a two-story house at the northern end of the village and found a big tree growing right out of the living room floor, through the ceiling, and out the roof.

“You guys go ahead.” Matthew said. “I want some pictures.”

While Matthew fumbled about with his camera, Odette, Soylent and I scrambled up a wrecked staircase and found a window to keep watch over the squad’s flank. Wordlessly, Odette set up her rifle in the windowsill and began scanning the nearby highway through her scope. Soylent and I waited for Matthew to finish snapping pictures and then helped him up the wrecked stairs.

The next three hours passed in near total silence. The village was dead, save for the thirteen Stormbreakers keeping watch over the western approach. Occasionally, birds flitted past or a pheasant flew from one building to the next. A short while before noon, something spooked a small group of Korean Antelope, causing them to flee into the forest at top speed. We all went on alert, but nothing came of it, and boredom set back in.

After an early lunch, the sun started beating down on the house, and the heat was putting me to sleep. Very slowly, my shotgun got heavier in my hands, even though I’d propped it up on the windowsill. Blinking slowly, I rested my chin on the stock of my weapon, and I started to wonder how long I could close my eyes without falling asleep.

“Hey, you hear that?”

Soylent’s voice creeped into my ear. When nobody said anything, he repeated himself:

“Does anybody hear that noise?”

Reluctantly, I woke up.

There was a noise. Odette and Matthew were holding their hands to their mouths to muffle the sound of their own breathing. Soylent and I strained our ears, listening to a tinny rumble getting louder and louder.

“It’s an engine.” Matthew whispered, “An Old World internal combustion engine!”

“I thought ADVENT got rid of all the gas-powered cars.” Soylent commented.

“They tried.” Matthew answered. “Most of the people living in the outlying settlements and Havens still have theirs, but gasoline itself is pretty rare nowadays.”


Rumble rumble rumble.

The sounds were getting closer. The four of us put our heads together and quickly made a plan. Because we were in the field, we only called one another by our call signs. It’s basic operational security.

“Trojan, what’s your call?” Matthew asked me. “What do we do?”

I pointed to Matthew.

“Alecto, get onto the roof and see if you can spot that car.” I ordered.

Matthew nodded and moved quickly back to the staircase.

“We need to decide if we’re gonna stop that car.” I told the others. “If it right comes at us, we’ll need a plan for that too.”

“That’s simple, mate.” Soylent said. “If the car comes at us, we’ll do it like we did those Russian trucks in Hiroshima. Shoot the tires and the engine.”

Odette nodded at Soylent and gave me a simple smile. I agreed as well.

“Vampire, I want you on street level. Take cover behind something solid and Soylent and I will watch over you from here. We’ll tell you where that car’s going in a moment.”

Odette didn’t bother with the stairs. She slid down the gaping hole in the floor where that big tree was growing through the house. While Soylent and I set up our weapons in the windowsill again, we saw Odette leave the house and set up a new fighting position in a ditch near the road. The engine was getting louder now. Above my head, Matthew banged the roof with his fist.

“I see a pickup truck coming from the south!” He announced. “Looks like three or four people inside. They’re coming right at us along the main road!”

“Soylent, pass the word to Vampire!” I said.

Leaning my shotgun against the wall, I pulled out my radio and called the other two fireteam leaders:

“Doomsday and Steampunk, this is Trojan. Come in. We’ve got an unknown motor vehicle approaching my position. Multiple occupants.”

“Steampunk here.” Hal’s voice replied, “What kind of vehicle are you talking about?”

“It’s a truck.” I said, then Soylent whispered something in my ear, and I added: “Correction, it’s an open-top pickup truck. There’s two people sitting in the bed. It’s about half a mile from our position and coming right towards us.”

“This is Doomsday.” Holly’s voice came out of the receiver. “Sounds like they’re local Resistance fighters. The contact we’re expecting isn’t supposed to be here for another three hours. Stop that truck and hold them in place. I’ll call the Avenger and get someone out here to point them towards the enemy.”

“Copy all. Trojan out.”

I set down the radio and was about to relay Holly’s instructions to Soylent when I saw the look on his face.

“What in the hell?” Soylent breathed, staring out the window. I followed his gaze.

About three hundred yards up the road from us, in full view of our guns, the pickup truck had come to a stop. Its engine shut off and the doors opened while four people got out. From this distance, I couldn’t really tell who exactly I was looking at, but I got the feeling I wasn’t dealing with members of the East Asian Resistance.

“Who the hell are they?” I said.

As if in answer to my question, Matthew’s voice came down from the roof.

“Two of them are friendlies!”

Soylent raised his rifle and looked down the scope.

“Well don’t that just bugger all?” He said. “He’s right. Both of the FNG’s are down there, and I think the person standing in the truck bed is our contact.”

“Soylent, keep Overwatch.” I said. “Vampire and I are going out there. We might be dealing with some Faceless here.”

With Matthew and Soylent keeping a vigilant watch from the high ground, I raced to join Odette in the ditch, where she had not yet been spotted by the four people walking slowly towards our position. I checked my shotgun. She checked her rifle. We nodded at one another and then sprang up together!

“FREEZE!” I yelled. “WEAPONS ON THE GROUND AND HANDS ON YOUR HEADS!”

There were several startled yelps as three rifles and an archaic-looking weapon hit the ground. Four women, who looked between the ages of 20 and 30, all clasped their hands to the top of their heads and gave us frightened expressions. I threw a quick sideways glance at Odette and she obeyed the silent order. With one hand, she tossed a small metal sphere towards the four intruders. The Battle Scanner came to rest at their feet, emitted a soft blue light and beeped three times before becoming inert once more.

They were are all human. No shape-shifters, no organic tracking devices. All clear. I raised my voice and yelled at the four new people:

“Firestorm!” I yelled.

At once, all four women replied:

“Snowstorm!”

While Matthew stayed on the roof to provide Overwatch, Soylent, Odette, and I moved in to bring the four friendlies towards our lines. Two of them I recognized right away as the prospective new members of our team.

Ludmilla Kuznetsova was an incredibly slim Russian woman with messy brown hair. Her combat fatigues just kinda hung off her frame, and I wondered how long she could hold that M16 rifle without hurting her skinny arms. Her twin sister, Sophia, had a thick grey scarf wrapped around her entire head so that I could only see her eyes.

Privet staryy drug!” Ludmilla exclaimed in Russian before switching to English, “Good to see you again, Robinson. And Fournier, and you too, Green.”

Odette gave Sophia a hug while Soylent tried to flirt with Ludmilla, holding her hand in his just long enough to make her uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the other Stormbreakers had left their positions and joined us in the street. Holly and Hal set about talking to Ludmilla and Sophia while Kathleen, Sophie, Matthew, and Isis began searching the pickup truck. I recognized the third newcomer as someone we’d been told to look out for.

“I take it you must be our Contact?” I asked. “Homura Hanako, right?”

A Japanese teenager nodded at me. She was a little younger and scrawnier than what I’d expected. She didn’t look a day over seventeen, had short black hair, and deep blue eyes that kinda reminded me of Chihiro a little. I made a mental note to introduce her to Homura later.

“I was supposed to be taking you to the ADVENT facility near Tokyo tomorrow.” Homura said. “But I guess all that’s changed now.”

That caused everyone to fall silent.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked cautiously. “You know something we don’t?”

“Actually…” Homura said slowly. “… She's the one who knows.”

Our Contact stuck her thumb out at the fourth traveler. After my first glance at her, I did a double take. One by one, all thirteen Stormbreakers became aware of the fourth newcomer, turning to look at her as she in turn gazed back at us.

Some of us had not seen this girl since the day she had been born. Others had only heard secondhand stories about her. One of us had not seen her since she was a small child. Isis Dekker’s knees trembled as she recognized the person standing before her, and she opened and closed her mouth wordlessly, struck dumb by shock. I felt like the forces of time itself were playing some kind of cruel joke on me. I blinked a few times and pinched my hand to see if this ghost from the past was truly real. It was.

Holly, Ignatius, and Chihiro gasped when they recognized her rounded face and brown skin.

Ignatius, Yutaka, Soylent, and Tsubaki dropped their jaws when they saw her dark blue hair.

Odette, Matthew, Kathleen, Sophie and I were transfixed by her beautiful purple eyes.

Kate Asuna Ray, the daughter of two XCOM soldiers who had fought and died during the Alien Invasion over twenty years ago, looked around at me and my comrades with a sad expression on her face. Finally, she spoke.

“I wish I could come back to XCOM under different circumstances, but my hand’s been forced: ADVENT knows you’re here. You’ve got about thirty minutes before they attack.


 
Last edited:

HistoryDude

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So, Jericho is in the story now...

How does Jericho know ADVENT’s plan, anyways?

Also, I’d narrow down my guesses as to who the Paradox’s mysterious ally is, but that would ruin the reveal of who it is.


And, remember, “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must”.
 

Nikolai

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Finally, Jericho has joined the fight on Xcom's side, then. Or, is she only helping out for the time being?
 

Vilhelm

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Ah, Jercho arrives! The woman who will soon be both the savior and destroyer of galactic civilization...
 

Macavity116

The First Stormbreaker
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Ah, Jercho arrives! The woman who will soon be both the savior and destroyer of galactic civilization...
If she were reading this, I'm sure Mira Mihaka (From After Everything) would be squealing like a fangirl.


So, Jericho is in the story now...
How does Jericho know ADVENT’s plan, anyways?
Jericho's inflammatory answer to your question is in the next chapter.

And, remember, “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must”.
Siege of Melos, eh? The forces of XCOM could probably benefit from having a few Spartans on their side right now.

That dialogue reminds me of a line from The Stormbreakers - Chapter 4: The Second Battle of Pyongyang:
The Chosen Assassin said:
It’s fitting that we meet on the field of battle. I have no intention of quibbling over ideologies, histories, or objectives.


Finally, Jericho has joined the fight on Xcom's side, then. Or, is she only helping out for the time being?
Jericho was originally planning to trade her assistance for something in return, but as implied in the final sentence of this chapter, she's now here to help with no strings attached.
 
Chapter 3: The Gang's All Here

Macavity116

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So... all fifteen of the Stormbreakers are gathered in one place right at the very beginning of the story. There's no way this is going to end well.
======

Chapter Three
The Gang’s All Here


Caption said:
(Left) Sergeant Hal "Steampunk" Macintosh

(Right) Sergeant Isis "Avenger" Dekker

Wednesday, May 2, 2035 – 12:15pm


“Central, Central, this is Doomsday! Respond at once!”

“This is Central. Send your traffic, Doomsday.”

“I have two signals for you, Central. First signal is: Zander. I repeat: Zander.

“Oh my God… uh, request confirmation! Urgently!”

“Central, this is Trojan here. I confirm Doomsday’s message: Zander.

“Ack… uh, Acknowledged. Doomday, you’re go to send your second message.”

Wolverines!”

“Mother of Christ! Doomsday, you should have led with that! Can you confirm!?”

“Central, this is Alecto! Wolverines! I say again! WOLVERINES!! THEY’RE COMING!!



Twenty-five years ago, if you’d told us that a larger and more well-armed enemy force was about to blow through our position and attack our friends, you might have caused us to panic. But the Stormbreakers are not a ramshackle group of brothers and sisters in-arms pretending to be a squad anymore. All twelve of my comrades have been hardened by countless battles and have over a half-a-century of combat experience shared between us. No sooner had Jericho’s warning left her mouth than we were already springing into action.

Holly had picked up her radio and raised the alarm, telling the Avenger what was going on. Soylent started ordering his comrades towards new defensive positions. Chihiro was already scanning the rooftops, looking for a new place to set up her sniper rifle. Odette and Matthew had unzipped their backpacks and were starting to run down the road, placing anti-personnel land mines as they went.

Ludmilla, Sophia, and Homura all ran back to the truck and retrieved their weapons. Ludmilla and Sophia had fought alongside the Stormbreakers a few times before, they knew what to do and fell in with our group right away. Homura seemed a little confused and out of place. Her rifle hung at her side while she waited for someone to tell her what to do.

“Trojan!” Holly shouted at me, “You’re taking responsibility for FNG’s and Hanako! Keep 'em with you!”

“Are you kidding me!?” I yelled back. “You want me to babysit the Squaddies right now, Colonel!?”

“Don’t argue, Robinson!” Holly snapped.

Before she could say anything else, her radio squawked. Holly set her machine gun on the ground and held the radio up to her ear to listen to the latest information from the Avenger. A few feet away from the group, Isis Dekker stopped what she was doing and grabbed Jericho by the shoulder. She spun on her feet to face the German mechanic, and a look of joyous recognition came over her face.

“Kate?” Isis’ voice cracked. “Do you remember me?”

“Of course, I remember!” Jericho pulled Isis into a hug. “You were my first mom, back on Hawaii!”

Above the pair, Isis’ Gremlin drone flew in an excited circle above their heads and made a chirping sound. Both Isis and Jericho choked up and cried for a few seconds.

“I saw the aliens take you away!” Jericho said, “In the forest on Kauai. I’m glad to see you’re alright!”

“I knew you’d survived, little Kate.” Isis half-sobbed, “You were always a tough kid. I just wasn’t expecting to see you here, like this! Where have you been this whole time?”

“I’ve been moving around East Asia.” Jericho answered. “Korea. Manchuria. Japan. Taiwan. A little bit of China and Mongolia, too. What about you? Where did the aliens take you?”

“America. The local Resistance had to break me out of a prison.” Isis paused, struck by a sudden thought. “Hey, wait a minute, you called yourself ‘Jericho’ earlier.”

The Hawaiian nodded.

“I don’t call myself ‘Kate’ anymore. I’m Jericho now. It’s a long story.”

“What? Why? How did you-”

“None of that is important right now.” Jericho interrupted. “We live through this, I’ll explain everything, I promise.”

“Fireteam leaders, gather on me!” Holly yelled.

Hal and I followed Holly a short distance away from the group so she could brief us first. All of the other soldiers started looking for and building defensive positions. When Holly beckoned her, Jericho broke off her talk with Isis and joined Holly’s chat with the fireteam leaders.

“Alright troops, listen up.” Holly began. “The Commander’s drawn a defensive line running from our position to the top of that hill a mile to the south. XCOM forces are being deployed along the line and we’re gonna hold it when ADVENT comes. Jericho, you said that’s your name right? What can you tell us about what’s coming?”

“They’re coming from the Southwest.” Jericho told Holly. “Moving along that highway we just came from. There’s about five hundred ADVENT Peacekeepers, supported by four tanks and a Siege Cannon.”

“Aw shit, they’re bringing artillery?” Hal asked. “Colonel, with all due respect, artillery is the one thing we can’t defend against. Shouldn’t we make a fighting retreat back to the Avenger?

“You’re right. That’s the plan.” Holly answered. “The Commander and Central both say that it’ll take about an hour to pack everything up and get the Avenger ready to fly. If we try and take off right now, that Siege Cannon will be shelling us when the takeoff sequence is underway. We’ve gotta stop ADVENT from getting that big gun near the Avenger.

“So our objective is to destroy the Siege Cannon?” I asked.

“No.” Holly said. “We’re going to make a delaying action, buy time for the Avenger to get ready to fly. We engage the enemy here and force them to deploy and fight. Once she’s ready for takeoff, we’re all getting the hell out of here. As soon as we take contact from the enemy, we’ll start that fighting retreat. Robinson, your fireteam will provide cover fire while Hal’s team and my team both fall back. Then we’ll dig into a new fighting position and give your team cover while you retreat. We’ll repeat that all the way back to the Avenger. Any questions?”

Hal and I shook our heads. Jericho stepped forward.

“I know this is going to sound insane, but you need to let me go back the way I came from. I promise I’ll come back in about an hour.”

“What!?” Holly, Hal, and I all said at once.

“Are you bloody daft?” Holly demanded. “You think you’re just gonna walk away after showing up here and telling us we’re about to be attacked!?”

“I have to!” Jericho spoke in a tone of voice that implied her answer was the obvious choice. “You and your comrades are going to need help, and I can get it!”

“And where’s that help going to come from!?” Hal said incredulously. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re in the middle of North Korea. If you leave here, you won’t see another Human until you get to one of the Mega-Cities. Seoul or Busan if you go south, and if you go north, you’d have to cross most of Manchuria before you got to Shenyang. We’re your only ride out of here, kid.”

“Precisely.” Jericho said. “There’s a Resistance Cell nearby, and I convinced them to follow behind us-”

“Stop right there!” I interrupted. “Jericho, the Avenger’s been here for almost two weeks. If there was a Resistance Cell in the area, we would have found it by now.”

Jericho folded her arms and looked defiant.

“No, you wouldn’t.” She said. “This group is from Mainland China. Like I said, they’ve been following me. I told them that they needed to help you fight this battle today, and then you’d take them out of here on the Avenger. The whole team’s camped out about a mile back, I just have to go back and signal that it’s safe to approach your lines.”

“Out of the question.” Holly said curtly. “We’ve been trying to get you on-side for years, Jericho. We can’t just let you leave again like-”

But Holly never got to finish her sentence. A loud screeching noise, like a thousand fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard, pierced the air and caused all of us to drop our weapons and press our hands to our ears.

“What the hell is that noise!?” Chihiro screamed.

“I don’t see anything out there!” Soylent raised his voice above the cacophony.

Just when I thought my eardrums were going to burst, the noise stopped; but there was nothing merciful about the sudden silence, because a moment later the noise was replaced by something far… far worse.

A harsh voice spoke softly in my ear:


“The end is coming.”

I jumped to one side and looked to see if anyone was there. Nobody was next to me. All around, the other Stormbreakers, Ludmilla, Sophia, Homura, and Jericho all startled exactly the same way I did. They had heard the sound too. When the voice spoke again, I felt my blood get cold:

“The Elders grant me their vision, and I am everywhere. The Elders possess many gifts. Where they see you, they send me. They have proposed an exchange: Surrender the one called ‘Jericho’ to my forces at once. In return, every man and woman aboard your ship will be spared and allowed to leave this place. If not… then you will meet the destiny shared by all traitors. Shall we begin?”

The voice fell silent. The screeching noise stopped. Everyone looked at Jericho. Isis took a few steps toward her, slack-jawed.

“You…” Isis looked like she was lost for both breath and words. “You- but… The Chosen are after you!?

Jericho nodded.

“That sounded like the Assassin to me.” Matthew sounded frightened.

“Good, I’ll take the Assassin over the Warlock any day.” Isis said grimly.

“I’d rather fight the Hunter.” I said. “I’d be able to see him coming.”

All thirteen of the Stormbreakers had encountered the Elder’s Chosen warriors at least once over the course of the war. Big and powerful, these three aliens were the Elder’s personal favorites, and they’d been granted access to weapons and Psionic powers unlike any we’d ever seen before.

During her childhood, Jericho had lived with Isis on Kauai Island in the Pacific. The Chosen Warlock had found them and overwhelmed Isis with psychic powers unlike anything we’d ever seen before. The Warlock was the oldest of the Chosen, and therefore the most experienced. He supposedly had the power to conjure entire armies out of thin air. Reports, legends, and rumors about the Warlock go back nearly fifteen years.

Just a couple of weeks after Operation Gatecrasher, Chihiro and I had crossed paths with the Chosen Hunter. We just barely managed to escape from him without getting into a fight, and the two of us agreed to simply run away the next time we saw him. Kathleen Walsh reported that the Hunter had never missed a shot during any of his encounters with XCOM. According to intel, the Hunter only became active ten years ago.

Odette Fournier and Matthew Hawkins had both met the Chosen Assassin on separate occasions. Matthew had only caught a glimpse of her and couldn’t tell much. Odette had gotten into an actual fight with the Assassin and now refused to talk about it to anyone. The XCOM rumor mill suggested that the Assassin had personally given Odette’s French Resistance cell its greatest defeat. According to Intelligence reports, the Assassin was the youngest of the Chosen, having only been active for the past five years.

At the moment, Jericho didn’t seem overly concerned about being pursued by the Chosen.

“That’s why I had to disguise myself, and why you’re all in danger now. The Assassin’s been on my trail for the past couple of weeks, and she found you while hunting me.” She explained.

“So, you knew you were being followed, and you came here anyway!?”

The new voice caused me to look around. Ignatius Petoskey and Yutaka Yamamoto had overheard the last part of the conversation and they both looked outraged.

“You led the Chosen right to us!” Ignatius pointed an accusing finger at Jericho. “You’ve betrayed us to the aliens!”

“No!” Jericho’s eyes went wide. She raised both hands and took a step back from Ignatius. Yutaka stepped forward and grabbed Jericho by the arm, holding her in place.

“Now hold on a moment, Petoskey.” Yutaka said. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. This girl is clearly not a Faceless, and her warning about the enemy approaching us turned out to be true. So far, she’s been more than helpful and cooperative. I see no reason to discredit her words yet.”

Yutaka kept a firm grip on Jericho and looked down at her. I’d seen that expression on his face hundreds of times before. He was expecting Jericho to praise him for coming to her defense, but she was too busy pleading with Holly.

“Colonel, please let me go get those Resistance fighters and bring them back here. You’re going to need all the help you can get, anyway. You can’t fight off an ADVENT army and one of the Chosen at the same time! You’re going to need help!”

From the roof of a nearby building, Sophie Ackermann yelled:

“I can see the enemy! Trucks and foot soldiers coming around the bend in the road! One mile distant!”

While Holly peered through her binoculars in the direction Sophie was pointing, I grabbed Jericho by the shoulder and pulled her away from Yutaka.

“How the hell did you know all of this?” I demanded. “You knew about ADVENT getting the jump on us! You know where to find a Resistance Cell, too!? Where the hell are you getting all of this Intel from?”

Jericho grabbed my hand with her own.

“Blake, this is gonna sound really freaky, but you’ve gotta believe me, okay?”

“Any answer is better than none.” I replied.

Jericho pursed her lips and squirmed nervously. Finally, she spat it out!

“I… I… I know the future! Okay!? I know what’s gonna happen next and when! I already know how this fight’s gonna end, too! Now you’ve gotta let me bring that Resistance Cell over here or half the team is gonna die!”

Holly, Hal, and I all dropped our jaws. Yutaka and Ignatius both gave one another wide-eyed looks.

“Fuckin’ hell…” Holly breathed.

“Bullshit.” Hal croaked.

“You can’t be serious.” I muttered.

Jericho nodded. Then she added:

“Listen Blake: Chihiro is going to save your life three times today. Then Colonel Smith is going to knock over a Sectopod with an RPG, and after that Ludmilla is going to die! When all that’s done, you’re going to fight the Chosen Assassin make it out alive. Please! I know how this is going to end, but things will go really badly for you if you don’t let me bring help!”

Instinctively, we all turned on our feet to look at the Kuznetsova twins. Sophia and Ludmilla were about three hundred yards away, shouting at Odette and Matthew, who were still laying landmines on the side of the road.

“Come back!” Ludmilla yelled. “They’ll be able to see you in a minute!”

We were out of time. A decision had to be made. Holly, Hal, and I all looked at one another, half-panicked, half-confused. Could we really believe Jericho? Hal rubbed his arm nervously.

“I mean, we all know you’re Gifted.” He admitted.

My eyes went wide! How could I have forgotten that! Jericho’s Gift could easily explain how she knew the future, and besides: In my own lifetime, I’d witnessed an alien invasion of Earth, gone toe to toe with an Ethereal in a fight, been thrown twenty years into the future, and watched my own girlfriend develop psychic powers of her own. Was Clairvoyance really so farfetched right now?

Finally, I mulled over everything that had been said one last time, considered the options, and chose a side.

“Ma’am.” I said to Holly. “You should let Jericho go.”

Holly looked flabbergasted. I explained my thought process:

“Jericho can clearly handle herself alone, and we can trust her to tell the truth. Her prediction about the enemy was spot-on. We’ve gotta take a chance on her being truthful and honest again. We need to trust her on this one.”

Jericho smiled at me.

“I knew you’d come through for me.” She said. “Thanks, Blake.”

Holly threw up her hands in frustration.

“Okay, fine! Jericho, come with me. Robinson, Dekker and Macintosh, help the rest of the squad dig in ‘till I get back.”



According to Sophie’s observations, we had less than half an hour until the enemy arrived on our doorstep. The ADVENT Coalition’s so-called “Peacekeepers” were moving slowly up the main road, sweeping for mines as they went. The soldiers who make up the ADVENT army are a mixed force of Human soldiers and Human-alien hybrid fighters. However, it was impossible to tell which of these soldiers were human and which were not because they all wore helmets that covered most of their faces.

Down the road, Odette and Matthew had finally given up on laying more landmines and were making their way back to the rest of the team. Chihiro, Kathleen, and the rest of the Sharpshooters had found a three-story building to set up a new kill-zone in. They waved at me from on high.

“We’ve got good positions here!” Chihiro shouted down to me. “ADVENT’s walking into a shooting gallery!”

“What the hell’s a shooting gallery?” Homura asked.

“Something from the Old World.” I explained. “ADVENT hates them, so therefore we like them.”

“Good enough for me.”

Holly came back a few minutes later and reported that Jericho was on her way towards the northwestern end of town, where her own Resistance Fighters were camped out.

“She’d better come back soon!” Sophie said from her high perch. “ADVENT’s starting to deploy their forces. They know we’re here!”

It wasn’t the sight of the Stormbreakers that had put the enemy on alert, though.


Caption said:
The Skyranger is XCOM's mainstay troop transport. This particular unit is the third incarnation of the iconic aircraft. XCOM has been using Skyrangers to deploy soldiers into combat since the Zudjari Invasion of 1962.

With a loud whining noise and a rushing of air, a small aircraft with a wide belly and two tilt-rotor turbofan engines flew over the village and started to hover. This little craft was the Skyranger, an auxiliary aircraft XCOM used to deploy soldiers into combat. Hovering over a street corner, six rappelling lines descended from the ship and a new squad of XCOM soldiers fast-roped to the ground. While the Skyranger turned around and sped back to the Avenger, an Irish-American woman armed with a shotgun and sword detached herself from the group and ran over to us.

“Lieutenant Jane Kelly, Menace Squad!” The woman introduced herself with a brisk salute. “Me and my boys will be on your left flank. Delta Squad’s gonna be on your right. Voodoo’s coming up from behind to support us. Echo’s in reserve.”

Jane looked around excitedly.

“So where is she? I heard you guys got Jericho!”

“Not here.” I answered quickly. “Get back to your squad and we’ll deal with Jericho when ADVENT’s not trying to kill us, okay? Tell your men we’re facing a motorized enemy. Unpack the heavy weapons!”

Reluctantly, Jane returned to her troops. I stepped around the corner of the main road and looked west. ADVENT trucks were just visible behind a distant mirage. The enemy was getting too close for comfort, and I was starting to get that prickling feeling in the back of my neck that always happened before a big fight. In about an hour, a lot of people were going to be dead. I could just feel it.

My nervous feeling must have been contagious, because next to me Homura let out a loud sigh.

“I hate this part.” She said. “The quiet waiting before a battle.”

Reluctantly, I agreed. It was time to get ready for what comes next. At my instruction, Homura, Soylent, Matthew, Odette, Sophia, and Ludmilla all forced their way into a small house down the street from the structure housing our Sharpshooters. We pushed furniture out of the way and set up firing positions near every south-facing window. Across the street and a little further along, Holly, Isis, Yutaka, and Tsubaki tucked themselves into an alleyway and were lying in ambush.

Our trap was set. Now we just had to wait.

Wait for the enemy to arrive.

Wait for Jericho to return.

Wait for the fight to begin…


 
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