Chapter 4: The Scientist and the Psionic Soldier
The door to the secure laboratory slid open with a mechanical whirr. Kiara immediately felt an unnatural chill washing over her. Intertwined with the unsettling scent of disinfectant and sterile plastic hanging thick in the air indicating a medical facility came a looming feeling which hinted more towards a spiritual or other supernatural disturbance. Such was an odd combination which only served to feed her misgivings of what was to come. Two others dared to follow her into this unnatural abyss.
Sergeant Lewis ‘Broadsword’ Edwards had eagerly volunteered for the procedure. After his experiences during the assault on the alien base, and the tragic circumstances surrounding sister, he was looking for a shield, and a sword.
Corporal Evana Burke, a new addition to XCOM’s operations followed swiftly beside them. Her research duties diverting her away from Strike Team operations the past few weeks meant that Kiara had yet to serve with her in the field. However her preliminary reading of Burke’s operational reports described her as an effective heavy weapons operative, instrumental in several successful anti-terror operations.
“Welcome to the Psionic Laboratory” Dr Vahlen greeted her entourage with professional curtsey. “Please, follow me”
“I believe your squad commander has already briefed you on this task, no doubt neglecting the most of the vital elements, so allow me to reiterate” Dr Vahlen lead them to the viewing gallery overlooking the main Psionic Laboratory. “You have been selected to undertake scientific tests conducted in an effort to uncover Psionic potential within humans. Due to the nature of the experiments I am afraid that I cannot divulge any details until the experiments are complete. If any of you are familiar with the work of Project Stargate or the experiments of Doctor Vasiliev from the 1960’s please maintain an open mind that scientific study has progressed since the Cold War. There will be no card games in my laboratory. Is there any questions?”
“Have you documented any successes?” Evana asked.
“The truth is that despite our best efforts we have yet to identify anyone with Psionic Potential” Dr Vahlen admitted.
In any other situation Kiara would have been quick to crack jokes regarding lab rats and lifting pencils with her mind. She remained deafly silent as they entered the laboratories.
“We will begin testing immediately” their walk brought them to the heart of the XCOM Psionic laboratories they had observed from the viewing gallery. Built in a circle around the centre of the room several pods stood pulsing with loathsome cold energy, each yawning open wide at their approach. “Each of you has been assigned a pod” Dr Vahlen indicated the pods. “Please get comfortable and we will begin the experiment immediately”
The three soldiers approached their assigned pods. Kiara was surprised to find Dr Vahlen had chosen to assist her into her pod personally. Kiara stepped cautiously into the pod, settling herself down as the structure closed around her.
“Are you ready?” Dr Vahlen asked. Kiara gave her a curt nod. “Then let us begin”
Dr Vahlen closed the pod, silencing Kiara from the world around her. Kiara inhaled a calming breath, allowing her to drift into the soft embrace of darkness.
She felt the shift of her seat beneath her feet, the gentle hum of machinery assaulting her ears. Her eyes drifted open to find herself surrounded by the soldiers of her squad. Surrounding her she saw Evana and Lewis. There were others around her, Lieutenant Andrew ‘Shield’ Burrows (Support) and Squaddie Angela Edwards (Assault).
That was impossible. Angelas face lacked the distinctive blazing red scar across her eye left in the wake of the attack on the alien base, an injury which had earned her the nickname ‘Zuko’ amongst those of her squad. Burrows had volunteered for the Mech Trooper augmentation program shortly before Kiara had taken over his duty as squad leader, however now he still wore the uniform of a standard soldier.
“Our target for this operation will be in Canada” Central Officer Bradford’s voice overlaid the holographic display detailing the objectives of the coming operation. “We’ve picked up a local broadcast indicating alien activity within a major population centre. We should get down there and eliminate any hostiles”
As Bradfords voice trailed off Burrows rose from his seat, clutching the overhead webbing for support against the linger turbulence. “Alright everyone you know the priorities here. Save any civilians in the area, watch the back of the soldier next to you; kill aliens, in that order. I want as many butts in these seats on the ride back as we have now, let’s all make sure that happens”
“Get ready Strike One, we’re overhead the abduction site. ETA to touchdown, 30 seconds” Big Sky interjected over the squad COM. Lieutenant Burrows returned to his seat. Kiara felt the sudden lurch in the pit of her stomach as the Skyranger made its sudden descent towards the target area.
This seemed like some form of lucid dream, reaching up she pinched her gloved fingers across her exposed neck, feeling the sharp burn of her enflamed nerves. If this wasn’t reality it was a damn good mimicry of it. She began to wonder whether Lewis and Evana were in here with her, an interconnected simulation. Perhaps they too were in their own personal versions of this world.
In an effort to maintain the integrity of the simulation she decided to push such thoughts to the back of her mind for the present. In this instance she chose to consciously defer to Lieutenant Burrows command, she knew from past experience that he would do his utmost to bring everyone back, or die trying.
The Skyranger touched down on the smooth surface of the empty parking lot. The loading ramp fell to strike the concrete, the Strike Team scrambled down the ramp with weapons scanning in front of them. Lieutenant Burrows stepped forward to the head of the group. “Hunter” Burrows called for his team sniper. “I want you on over watch from the rooftop” Burrows pointed to the roof the building across the street.
“Roger that” Kiara hefted her rifles strap over her shoulder and began a brisk trot towards her assigned position. Climbing a storm drain she found the rooftop deserted save for the gently whirring air conditioning units still running despite the ghostly silence elsewhere. The cold night air bit at her exposed skin as she moved to the edge of the rooftop, bracing her rifle on the low wall she could clearly observe the entirety of the open parking area from the restaurant to across the lot. “Overwatch established”
“Roger that” Lieutenant Burrows lead the strike team forwards as a group, Assault troops leading towards the service door of the building with Heavy and Support following in their step. The two assault troops took position of either side of the wide shutter door, preparing to engage whatever dared emerge to face them.
“No targets identified around the perimeter” Kiara scanned her eyes across the open car park, the empty rooftops and the deserted steak restaurant next door to the small warehouse the team was preparing to enter.
“Roger that” Burrows clapped his gloved hand against the shoulder of the operative crouched in front of him, tensing the soldier to readiness. “Opening the can of worms”
Angela Edwards clapped her open palm on the door control switch, the metal shutter groaning open on its worn motor. Angela and Lewis burst through the breach into the dimly lit room beyond, their shotguns tracking in front of them in search of concealed threats. Through the looming darkness pierced glowing red eyes and the subtle clicking of alien tongues. The overhead lights blinked into life, scattering the creatures and leaving only the trace of their latest kill in their wake. The creatures were no doubt preparing an ambush for them.
The answer eagerly revealed itself from the darkness as the green glow of the creatures’ plasma pistol. It was only Lewis’s lightning reflexes which prevented him from taking the shot into his chest, allowing him and Angela to dash into the cover before a second volley could emerge to suppress the rest of the team still positioned outside the warehouse.
“Three targets” someone called out, the constant hiss of the aliens plasma weapons making it difficult to tell who had given the report.
“I have no eyes inside” Kiara interjected. “Moving to assist” Rising to her feet she began to sling her rifle over her back to begin climbing down to-
“Kiara, hold position” Burrows ordered. “We can handle ourselves down here, we need you to cover us and ensure they do not sneak up behind us. We need our guardian angel”
Kiara repressed her instinctive urge to object. Having spent so long in her position as squad leader she found it difficult to suddenly return to the role as Lieutenant Burrows subordinate, but that was what a good soldier does, follow orders. As she lingered on the wings, unable to help, the battle raged on.
Corporal Burke peered out from cover, feeling the sudden burn as the alien plasma energy grazed her shoulder. “Son of a bitc-” she hissed, diving back into cover she instinctively clutched her wound with her gloved hand. She pushed the pain aside as she had been trained to do, turning her anguish to her advantage. “Right back at ya” she stepped out of cover she fired her machine gun in a hail of bullets, ripping the offending alien to shreds in a spray of luminescent green blood. As her gun ran dry she cast herself back into cover to reload and steady herself for another attack.
Silence descended in the wake of the battle. Lewis Edwards dared to poke his head out from cover, seeing only the scattered remains of alien bodies he released a steady breath and cautiously stepped forward to investigate. Finding alien blood staining the cold floor around the cluster of alien bodies he called back to his team. “We’re clear”
The rest of the group stepped forward to meet him, their weapons raised in anticipation of another attack. When they confirmed their attackers dead they allowed themselves a momentary respite. “What have we got?” Burrows asked.
“Three Sectoids” Lewis Edwards crouched down to sift through the sticky remains with the tips of his gloved fingers. “Weapon fragments, plenty for the lab rats to tinker with” Lewis rose back to his feet. “Can you believe they’re building some shock stick so we can bring one of these things back alive for them to play with”
“Orders are orders, big brother” Angela interjected. “You know what that means, suck up and deal with it”
“If it helps us get these things off our planet I’ll drag it back to base kicking and screaming myself” Evana said.
“Considering we’re in Canada I’d pay to see you swim the Atlantic with one of these things strapped to your back” Lewis remarked with a sly grin.
“Alright, stow it you lot” Burrows interrupted before the conversation could be allowed to devolve any further. “There’s still more of them out there so let’s go find them”
The team moved forward through the deserted warehouse in search of the next group of enemies. Angela felt a sudden shooting pain cutting through her head; she clasped her hand tightly to her forehead in a desperate effort to quell the agony.
“Are you ok?” Lewis asked.
“I’m ok” Angela smiled through the looming pain, forcing herself to keep going.
Lewis continued to follow the tail of the group, leaving his sister to follow behind him. The stark reality of this situation was only revealed as the sharp crack of a shotgun emanated through the warehouse, the low thump as Lewis fell to the ground. Angela cocked her shotgun, Corporal Burke turned to face her just as the second volley pierced her armour in a barrage of shot.
Lieutenant Burrows reacted purely on instinct, dashing for cover he burst through the first door he saw in a desperate attempt to escape the treacherous ambush.
“What’s going on?” Kiara pleaded for information, as she listened to the event over the radio. Readying her weapon she stared through the scope of her rifle in search of targets. She saw Burrows burst through the side door of the warehouse into the alleyway, Angela in sharp pursuit. Anticipating enemy contact Kiara’s gaze lingered on the open door in search of alien pursuers.
Her sight only drifted in time to watch as Angela drew a grenade from her belt and threw it in pursuit of Burrows. She heard the clink of metal striking metal, the muffled curse beneath the lieutenant’s breath overcome by the sudden shockwave as the grenade detonated at his feet.
Edwards emerged through the billowing smoke in her scope, the muzzle of her shotgun tracing in front of her in search of her prey which had no doubt eluded her. But she knew that her attack must have weakened him, the few flecks of fresh blood dotting the floor. Following the trail leads her into the chain steak restaurant next door, the décor no doubt mimicking a true authentic Texas style.
Kiara saw Burrows crouched behind one of the wooden booths, offering concealment but little protection if Angela decided to start shooting again. “I have the solution” Kiara said the phrase with the cold detachment as she had when she had readied shots against drug lords, enemy commanders and alien invaders.
“Keep calm Hunter” Burrows gulped loudly. “I’m goanna try to talk her down”
Kiara instantly knew his suggestion was a bad idea. “Burrows, wait-”
“Ok Angela” before she could finish her protest he called out. “What’s going on here?”
“Oh christ, Andy” Angela cursed. “I’m not talking with you, just die already”
“Ok, I’ll talk then” Burrows gulped again. “You’ve got a shotgun on me. Kiara, she has a sniper rifle pointed at you. That’s what we call a Mexican standoff”
Angela glanced up to stare at Kiara through the scope of her rifle. Kiara did not know if she could dare to kill one of her own.
“And I don’t think any of us want it to end like that” Burrows continued.
“Don’t you dare try to psychoanalyse me” Angela snapped. “You can’t even begin to understand”
“Try me” Burrows called out.
“Stop resisting!” Angela barked. “The aliens, they can help humanity to evolve and adapt. We are emerging on the brink of a cultural renaissance, yet you choose to remain stagnant”
“What I wish to know is what would turn someone against their own kind?” Burrows asked.
“You and your kind are relics of a forgotten age to be cast into the darkness of history” Angela said.
“Perhaps” Burrows replied. “But perhaps this old relic still has enough sense and grit to bring us all back alive”
“No Burrows” Angela said. “I shall walk the path of life while you shall walk the path of death”
Burrows knew of only one way both of them would be able to make it out alive. “I’m going to step out now”
“Don’t do it” Kiara pleaded in his ear.
Burrows gulped loudly through the com link. “Please don’t shoot me”
Burrows stepped out from cover from behind the booth; his hands raised above his head in as least a threatening pose as he could muster. “Angela-”
Angela raised her shotgun and fired a single burst at point blank range into his chest; the lieutenant fell to the ground in a pool of blood. Kiara finger rested on the trigger, staring through the scope preparing to take the shot-
She saw the glowing red eyes staring back at her through the shadows. The creature, little more than half of Angela’s height, lumbered hunched over into view on its spindly legs. The alien appeared to be a Sectoid, but larger with glowing red lobes pulsating with ruinous red energy. It reached up with a lithe hand, crushing his hand into a tight fist it seemed to exert some psychic control over Angela. Discarding her shotgun she clasped her hands to her forehead in a desperate effort to quell the intense pain as she fell to her knees. As she writhed and squirmed in place her strength began to seep from her body as she fell to the ground, cold and limp.
Kiara tracked her rifle over the creature, squeezing the trigger-
The Sectoid looked up to stare her down through the scope. Kiara felt experienced a sharp stab of pain as she felt herself being consumed by some powerful force inside her head. She recognised this touch, knew the embrace of the aliens attempting to take control of her mind.
“No” Kiara gritted her teeth, tensing all of the muscles in her head until it hurt. “Get…out…of…MY HEAD!” she felt herself being overtaken by a sudden burst of energy. She saw the creature falter, stumbling back on its legs Kiara knew she would have to take the opportunity and run. Leaving her rifle perched at the edge of the rooftop she bolted through the open space, casting herself through the billow of steam from the vent she clasped the drainpipe tightly and slid back to street level in less than a moment.
“Big Sky, this is Strike One” she breathlessly gulped in air as her mind ran circuits just trying to make sense of what she had just been a part of. “We’re compromised, send evac-” she rounded the corner into the parking lot, throwing herself into the waiting claws of a beast twice her size with blood red armoured scales. Her death was far from peaceful.
“What is happening?” Dr Vahlen swooped into the observation room, bringing with her an air of authority which brought calm to the ordered chaos.
“I’m not sure, doctor” the technician answered, typing at his console in search of answers. “Sequence complete, vital signs are stable, but Psionic energy levels are reading well beyond normal levels, I don’t know how a human being could survive-”
“Because she is far more than a mere human” an excited smile grew on the doctors lips as she peered down into the Psionic Laboratory. In that moment she knew she had found humanities champion.
Kiara’s mind ran wild with thoughts of what had just transpired. She had been there, she had seen them die, even died herself. She had failed. Yet even after all that they had told her of her ‘gift’, Psionic potential as the scientist called it. They claimed that given sufficient training she could emulate the mind altering powers of the invaders.
“You will go down in history” Kiara looked up to see Dr Vahlen stepping into the empty barracks. “The first human discovered with these abilities, possibly marking a turning point in the entire conflict”
“But you said it yourself Doctor” Kiara refused to look up, continuing to face the floor at her feet. “Anyone could have these abilities, before today I remained blissfully ignorant of my ‘gift’. There could be others out there”
“But you were the first” Dr Vahlen sat down on the bench beside Kiara, her lab coat gathering at the small of her back. “You will no doubt prove to be someone very special”
“Even if I have these powers you cannot make me use them” Kiara replied firmly. “I saw what the aliens did to people, what your experiments did to me. I would never wish that upon another, no matter what their crime”
Dr Vahlen sighed. “I am afraid that sometimes we do not have a choice in the matter” Dr Vahlen rose back to her feet. “Maybe in time you will come to realise what that means”