…weeeeiiird little experiment here, and I don't mean in just the concept alone.
I swear I'm losing track of the tense I'm narrating in, but I do assure you that some switches are… intentional.
Yeah, I dunno. Actually had this thought floating around for a while, figured I may as well finally put it to paper. Or word-doc, whatever.
There's something strangely familiar about the dim passenger bay, even through the glowing blue readouts and annotations floating across his view. Vital signs adorn his vision with bright cyan, electrocardiogram readouts beneath each translucent squad member designation pulsing with a violent frequency.
He does not need such readings to see that they are afraid. Their faces are dead giveaways, a motley assortment of various pigments and folds of skin housing fragile eyes that dart from the weapons cradled in their laps to the sealed passenger bay doors to each other and to just about every square micrometer of the Skyranger interior.
Names float above their heads, an alien presence that he is not used to seeing. Jumbles of letters coalesce together into foreign and unique designations, useless annotations attached to the bold and distinguishable enough ones above them. He ponders, for a brief moment why such information is necessary.
But pondering over information that was already clearly unnecessary was a waste of resources and time, and so he does not dwell on the matter for long. He filters them out easily enough, simply… 'ignoring' the nametags assigned to each soldier.
Strike Three sits directly across from him, her left foot hammering against the floor at a quiet, rapid rhythm that betrays the mask of confidence she wears upon her pale face. A rudimentary ballistic helmet sits over her scalp, the regulated and standard issue shape of it sparking a sudden… remembrance in the circuits racing through the back of his mind.
Electrical pulses bridge together, jumbles of numbers and programs compile and for a brief moment a short audio clip of an outdated helicopter's rotors fills his helmet. Milliseconds pass as he ponders what the significance behind it is- after a brief moment of calculation, he manages to draw out some conclusion.
Subconscious processes present him with a curious article from the numerous databases he has access to.
Pausing for but only a fraction of a second (approximately 356 nanoseconds with a standard error of 100 nanoseconds to be 'exact') to watch the distance to landing zone tick down in the bottom corner of his vision and ensure that he had time left to… pursue such seemingly insignificant data, he quickly dives in.
The shape of the aircraft catches his attention immediately. He has seen it before, the rugged, clumsy fuselage anchored to the rotors up top-
-the audio clip returns, and he can almost hear a voice over the whumping of the rotors.
His organic eyes blink in lack of understanding as he hears the gravelly and cold voice play on repeat, the garbled noise filling his helm as surely as any real audio clip and yet… the system does not register it at all.
One word stands out above the thousands of thousands of words across every article his processes have discovered, repeated in almost every one of the 247 (and counting) articles his query has retrieved.
Irrelevant data. The sounds are purged, just as quickly as they had arrived.
Despite system overviews insisting that all processes related to the search had halted, an uncomfortable, yet… familiar feeling remained over him. Feeling. Feeling was not a valid process. He ceases his incessant pondering over this matter swiftly, checking back on the distance to target again.
Seconds later, a digitized voice, baritone and filtered through speakers blares into the passenger bay. Strike Three's mask of nonchalance is promptly shattered as she visibly spikes up straighter in her seat at the voice.
'Time on target, 30 seconds.'
He initializes a countdown within in his helmet as soon as the voice is finished speaking, continuing on to follow through with his original analysis of his squadmates.
Strike Two sits adjacent to Strike Three, clutching the pristine length of his newly issued sniper rifle in a relaxed and practiced grip while his lip trembles ever so slightly. Sharpened lenses highlight a small metal cross anchored to a silver chain peeking out from Strike Two's grip. No digital annotations spring to life on his view, but he knows what it is, regardless of the void of knowledge left by the databases grafted into his mind.
No processes present him with related articles, picking out key words within them to form a conclusion- he jumps to it, almost as soon as he finds the detail.
The religious little trinket disappears from his view as Strike Two clasps his hand over it entirely and slips it into a pouch on his belt, before wiping a bead of sweat trickling down his dark-skinned forehead.
A shaky sigh escaped Strike Two's dried lips, filling the troop bay with a rare moment of noise.
Only somebody who had faced down the extraterrestrial threat personally would not be ashamed to show weakness to their teammates- false bravado and confidence for presentation to their comrades would do nothing to help them in combat. Considering the silence he was usually used to, that said something about XCOM's veteran reserves.
And what about you then?
The counter ticked down to 25 seconds, computational microprocesses falling silent as he suddenly bristled on the inside.
He did not show weakness or fear because he had none.
Central's voice broke over the sudden mental silence that reigned in his mind as computational processes struggled to regain control, his curt and taciturn voice rambling off the usual details of a last-minute briefing-
-normally he would take every single word of it and commit it to memory, not letting a single detail go unrecorded, but he already knew what the mission was. This was redundant.
Strike One was the first to rise from her seat, without even needing to hear verbal confirmation that deployment was imminent, brushing a stray lock of red hair out of her face as she braced the stock of her rifle against her shoulder.
Yes, Strike One-
-her hair is far beyond regulation length. It is no wonder that she opts not to wear a helmet. Then again, simple ballistic helmets have proven to be near useless against plasma bolts, and he understands that regulars find them obstructive.
There is something familiar about how she wears that hair, pulled back in a neat tail, something familiar about how her steely eyes glances over her troops-
Strike One is his immediately designated superior, the squad leader. Anything else, whatever mask of flesh and skin they wear, how 'familiar' it seems, was irrelevant.
Still, she addresses them with a deflated, almost tired tone.
"You heard Central. Mission objective is to secure the terror site. Terminate all hostiles."
She says nothing about the civilians.
His cybersuit stirs to life as the last seconds on the timer he'd set ticks down to zero, mechanical servos whirring ever so slightly as he eases himself up. The enormous, blocky autocannon he cradles in his hands feel as weightless as any weapon he's ever wielded, natural, as much an extension of his will as the great machine that was now his body.
"Strike team is at the mission site. Requesting permission to deploy."
"Solid copy Big Sky. Strike team is clear to engage."
The troop bay doors hiss and creak with loosening pneumatic pressure as they open up, a sudden flood of hellish orange firelight filling his vision-
-his helmet visor adjusts accordingly, his ears picking up on the shriek and whine of distant plasma fire mixing with the mortal screams of those caught in their wake as the flare of light dies out, and he finds glowing reticules and markers blooming all across the demolished street.
As per standard deployment procedures, he is the first to set foot on the cracked, scorched pavement.
He was already calculating firing solutions by the time the first target skittered into view, its gangly, spindly claws dripping with slick red blood as they carried it gliding over to his position.
Echoes of a past long gone fill his mind as he settles right into the ensuing pandemonium, the autocannon barking twice in his metal hands before the calculations even finish. The target's carapace peels apart as the armor piercing shells slam into it, the first blasting apart its midsection- the guttural roar that tears out of its slobbering maw is swiftly cut short as his next shell finds its mark precisely in its head. Purple exoskeleton shatters and blossoms out with the ensuing explosion of sickly green paste.
His voice feels right, cold and synthesized as he confirms his kill with utter detachment.
The atmosphere feels right, the cool night air doing furious battle with the scalding fires of a dying city.
The sounds feel right, the moans of shambling parodies of the human form, the bursts of panicked comm chatter from his squadmates as they realize that there are dozens of contacts closing in on their exact location.
Strike Four is no stranger to this sort of situation. In his mind, just under the din of thundering gunfire, he hears a soothingly reassuring echo from the past guide his hand, as it always has- even if its significance has become lost on the circuits that now run through his artificial mind.
Death cannot die.