The message, cryptic as ever, came over SMS on our Indigo-issued phones:
“The trap has been sprung. They came back to Japan. This time, we were ready.”
Suspecting there’d be folks needing medical attention, I rushed to the hangar. Mulder, Muller, Tony, and Tsai Ch’en were already suited up when I arrived, and we wasted no time in getting onboard the sky ranger and heading east.
After a short while, the pilot looked back and instructed us to mute our mics and switch to channel two. We heard a woman speaking hurriedly in Korean, then in English:
“… our friend from the DPRK says they’ve got three boxes on the bottom. They’ve hit one, and that’s got this one limping.”
Another voice responded, excitedly, and with a Texan accent: “Copy that – am I cleared for my run?” The conversation was drowned out in a moment by what could only be the roar of A-10 Warthog fire, and after a tense silence, that same voice again: “I’ve popped another box and it’s headed toward a populated area of Japan. Send in the grunts.”
And in we went.
We had time enough for a few cursory searches on our Indigo-issued phones, though. We learned that we were headed to a wooded area near Tottori, and that the weather was forecast to be partly cloudy. Tony checked to see whether there had been any unusual happenings (e.g. meteors, ovipositions, etc.) in this area, but found nothing of note. I pulled up a map of living heritage recipients to find that an esteemed woodworker, Kiyotsugu Nakagawa, lived only a couple valleys over. I requested that Indigo dispatch ground forces to his home, only to learn that Japan’s living national treasures had already been moved to safe-houses. I thought we should visit regardless, but we had this task to attend to first.
It was nearly midnight when we came upon the field of trees. A narrow swath of them had been mowed down by the alien craft as it fell eastward, so we elected to follow the newly formed treeline on the south edge of its path. Muller went first and covered Tsai Ch’en and me as we moved up behind him. Mulder and Tony brought up the rear, and we continued to advance this way until we heard a sound from the northeast.
Something was moving through the bushes, but it was difficult to determine in the darkness where it was exactly. We estimated, though, that it was likely coming from atop an outcropping in the distance, and that the lone tree on that outcropping might make decent cover for an enemy sniper. Anticipating this, Tsai Ch’en continued east to take cover behind the next large rock formation – in the process, however, she surprised a patrol of three sectoids that instantly scattered to take cover. Two took up behind nearby formations – a tree and a large rock, respectively – and the third sprinted behind a tree far to the south and out of sight. Tsai Ch’en and Tony were both able to take cover, themselves, and braced for combat.
With all the good cover having been taken, I advanced further east and to the south side of a small rock pond – and it was here that I finally spotted the UFO in the distance. For all the trees it had smashed through, I was amazed to discover that it didn’t show any outward signs of damage: the surrounding fires glinted fiercely off the pristine, metallic surface of the hull, and even the strange, translucent corner sections appeared not to have sustained so much as a scratch. Mulder was at my side in a flash – as if sensing that one of us had stumbled across the craft – and made note that the frosted corner sections didn’t reflect the light of the fire at all. “Is it porous?” he wondered aloud. I suppressed a shudder, barely, and fell back to join Mulder and Tsai Ch’en in cover.
When the sectoid that had sprinted south reappeared, Hans and Tsai Ch’en were ready for it. It had hardly seen us, I think, before its head and torso exploded in perfect unison – a third shot also rang out, and Tony let out a yaup of satisfaction (but I’m pretty sure he didn’t actually manage to hit anything). As if to answer him, another sectoid lept out from cover and fired on Tony – fortunately, the projectile slammed into the rock formation he’d taken over behind and managed only to shower him with a few light rock fragments. The last sectoid, who had been sheltering nearby, ran south toward the opposite side of the rock Mulder, Tsai Ch’en, and I were stacked behind.
It was clear, at this point, that it meant to flank us – but by the time I thought to request her help, Tsai Ch’en had already darted out of cover to the rock pool just south of us. Mulder was still with me, though, so I proposed that he take the east corner of the rock while I take the north, and by doing so keep the flanking sectoid from getting the drop on us. He paused a moment, and with a resounding “okay!”, dropped to his knees and folded himself into the safest nook of the rock formation.
Tony, on the other hand, was not so cautious. Having also anticipated the sectoids’ flanking maneuver, he advanced quickly and fired on the enemy. He missed, to my horror, and I was with him and firing before I realized it. I missed, but the enemy did not: the projectile burned through my armor like it was nothing, and my skin like it was even less.
Hans had our backs, though, and he made short work of the offending sectoid. Tony took a shot at the other sectoid, which had taken cover, but missed again. As if to show off, Hans unleashed a salvo of gunfire that tore this one apart, as well. With this, we finally had the chance to move back up behind the rock to reload – as the others did so, I cracked open a medikit and saw to my burns.
Tsai Ch’en, taking point, moved closer to the alien vessel and took watch from behind a stump. Hans moved north, in hopes of flanking any enemies we might spot along the way, and the rest of us followed after Tsai Ch’en as she forged on east, then north – until she came across a second patrol of three sectoids. This one had gone up the outcropping to the north, and after spotting her, they, too, scattered to take cover behind the nearby stumps and rocks. Responding in kind, Tsai Ch’en fell back to her previous cover, and the rest of us moved in to engage.
All at once, the sectoids sprang into action. One lept down and sprinted south, disappearing behind the downed spacecraft. Another, stepping out from behind the tree, fired on Tsai Ch’en and hit: her armor burned away, and she was badly hurt. I rushed to her side to administer the medikit, and while the gel sealed her wounds, we were left out in the open.
Meanwhile, as his companions fought for their lives, Mulder had wandered off to check out the spacecraft. Peering through one of the translucent sections, he could make out a number of stand-up terminals glowing green against the metal walls of the interior. He couldn’t make out anything on the panels, but if he could find a way to get a bit closer…
Further north, Tsai Ch’en returned fire and killed the creature that had blasted away her armor. Hans, having caught the second creature at an uncovered angle, fired on it. The creature, spotting Hans, fired back. Neither one managed to hit the other, however, and they were both terribly embarrassed.
Suddenly, a sectoid – the same that had fled the main battle – leaned out and fired a shot at Mulder. It missed, fortunately; and Tony, who had since joined Mulder at the downed ship, rushed in to fire back. Though he missed, the shot triggered his holographic targeting program: whatever came next, we’d at least have an easier time taking this one down.
Meanwhile, transfixed by the glow of the terminals, Mulder moved to press his hand against the translucent barrier separating him from the ship’s interior. His fingers found no purchase, though – no purchase, that is, because his fingers, his hand, and ultimately his whole body passed through the barrier entirely.
Outside, the fight raged. Hans took another shot at the creature to the north and missed. Tsai Ch’en fired also, but succeeded only in hitting the rock that the creature had ducked behind. It was me, to my surprise, who managed to take the sectoid down. It was exhilarating, and sickening, but there was no time to appreciate it: we had to help Tony before it was too late.
We arrived to find that, though the sectoid had burned Tony’s armor away, he was otherwise unharmed. Tsai Ch’en, Muller, and I fanned out to take down the sectoid on the other side of the craft – after a brief firefight, I managed to take it down with my carbine. Mulder, who had been wandering around inside the ship, managed to discern the shape of a distinctly sectoid handprint amid the sea of arcane symbols dotting the surface of the consoles around him. After a moment’s respite, which we used to reload, the rest of us rushed in to join him.
Mulder asked us for a hand – an alien hand, to be precise – and Tony was happy to oblige when we relayed the request to him over radio. He was kind enough to bring us two, in fact – and in hopes of overwhelming whatever waited for us behind the biometrically-locked doors in the central chamber, we stacked up at the doors on either side of it before using our ghoulish trophies to gain entrance. Muller, Tsai Ch’en, and Mulder took the door to the west; while Tony and I piled up on the door at the east side of the vessel. On the count of three, we pressed the severed hands against the consoles and rushed in as the doors parted.
Three more sectoids awaited us inside, but our having divided ourselves between entrances left them with no place to hide. Hans, Tsai Ch’en, and I made short work of them, and cleared the way for Mulder to rush in and seek the next console to activate. There was a single panel to the north, and the rest of us moved into cover and prepared for a firefight as he pressed the dismembered hand into it…
Before us stood three alien creatures: two sectoids, hideous as any we’d seen, and an odd set of bronze spheres lashed together into a large, humanoid shape by a confluence of forcefields very much like the one we had passed through in entering the ship. We’d have been perplexed by it if we weren’t already firing: Hans took down one sectoid and Tsai Ch’en dinged the golem, and while both Tony and I missed our targets, Tony’s shot tagged the golem with his holo-targeting system.
Suddenly, and with a speed very much at odds with its enormous size, the bronze creature shot out of the chamber and fled to the exterior of the ship. The remaining sectoid sought to cover its escape by firing on Tsai Ch’en, but it managed only to hit the doorway – we put it down only a moment later, before turning our attention to the fleeing golem.
Hans, however, was already on it: in the chaos he had given chase and dropped his rifle in favor of his freshly requisitioned LAW. Though the bronze construct was fast – eerily fast, as it had shot across the field and mounted the northern outcropping by the time Hans even managed to leave the ship – it was not fast enough to escape destruction. Hans’ rocket blazed across the field and slammed into the lone tree with a horrific blast, shattering trunk and golem alike in a maelstrom of flame and shrapnel.
I breathed a sigh of relief – we stood, finally, in a field without hostiles. We could finally radio back to Indigo for cleanup and take stock of our situation, and there was much of interest. The walls of the ship, for instance, seemed like they could all serve as effective screens. Additionally, the golem we had taken down seemed to lack a biological system entirely – it seemed to have some sort of built-in antenna, though, and appeared by all accounts to be some sort of robot. There also appeared to be a set of empty restraints, sized for a single person, attached to a wall of the craft’s inner chamber. Whether it had held a human? It was hard to say. But none of us got a good feeling from it.
All of these discoveries paled, of course, in comparison to what we had accomplished. For the first time in this war, we had thwarted a major maneuver of the alien invaders before they managed even to touch ground. Having made contact, we succeeded in systematically neutralizing every entity we encountered – all, furthermore, without having lost a single soldier. And, most importantly, we now had what might have been the greatest single acquisition in our fight against the invaders so far.
We now had one of their ships.