Chapter 1: Empty Quiver

Alicia Taylor was awoken by the sharp tones of her phones morning alarm. She didn't so much regain consciousness as feel her tranquil serenity being ripped from her by the devices incessant beeping. It seemed despite experiencing a technological renaissance that thrust humanities transport, medical and communications technologies hundreds of years ahead of its time someone had yet to devise a more pleasant way of waking up in the morning.

Alicia reached out to silence the offending speaker with a clumsy flail of her hand, a near miss forcing her to make a second attempt as she finally struck the silence button. The interminable noise silenced she begrudgingly rolled out of bed to face the day that was to come.

"Ugh" Alicia groaned hoarsely. "Rachel, TV on"

"As you wish" the simulated voice replied.

At her instruction, her apartments artificial intelligence activated the television on the far wall of the open plan apartment. The first channel that came on, as always, was the state approved ADVENT News Network.

"-Top story today" the newscaster announced. "Construction has begun on a new clean energy facility on the south coast of the of the British settlement…."

Alicia went about her usual morning routine. Walking into the kitchen she retrieved a bowl of cereal and fruit from the cabinet, eating to the tune of the news broadcast playing in the background. After breakfast, she headed into the bathroom to shower, feeling the warm cascade of the water over her heated to just the right temperature.

Returning to her bedroom, refreshed and ready for the day, she settled on an office casual outfit consisting of dark trousers and a snow-white top lined with icicle blue trimming. Opening the top drawer of her dresser she retrieved the small laser pistol concealed underneath a pile of freshly pressed tops. The weapon would likely prove little use if she ever came to needing it but it none the less remained a source of comfort as she willingly marched herself into the lions' den.

As one of the new prototype laser pistols remanufactured from the aliens' own weapons technology the techs on the Avenger assured her it wouldn't register on the alien's scanners. Probably. Sequestering the weapon in the hidden pocket of her jacket she steeled herself to step out of her apartment and into the street, prepared to play the role of the perfect ADVENT citizen.

Walking down the spotlessly clean streets of this glittering utopia of New Luxembourg City her mind began to wonder of what things had been like before the invasion. At 25 years old her memories of life before the occupation were few and vague at best. But if archive TV shows were to be believed it was a hilarious laugh a minute comedy intermixed with hopeless romanticism intercut with grand gestures of love. She began to ponder if any of those living in the settlement, those who experienced it and those who did not, ever considered what life was like before. Or maybe they were so caught up by the stories of the aliens being able to read minds that they never deviated from the state sponsored happy thoughts even within their own heads. In reality, the stories were true, but it was unlikely that happy thoughts would have helped either way.

As she continued her morning walk she withdrew her phone from her pocket, to all the world appearing to be musing herself with some idle distraction or another. The truth was that the device had been stripped of all but its most basic functions, lacking the navigation and interconnectivity and therefore tracking capability present in all phones available within the settlements. It would have been strange for her not to at least appear something to have one to hand so this served as the most effective compromise.

Glancing up from her phone she finally began to take in the view of the glistening skyscrapers which rose high around her on all sides. She had never liked cities, having grown up in the countryside in England. But she remembered dad having mentioned coming here for business one time, how he described the rich culture of the historic district.

After the alien regime change she had relocated with her mother and father to the newly created settlement founded over what had once been London. At first it had seemed idealistic, but only a few years later a freak road accident had taken her mother away from her, it seems some tragedies persisted into this new world order.

Shortly after her twenty-first birthday her father had begun to develop the initial signs of Cancer. A visit to the local Gene Therapy clinic lead to a recommended transfer to a facility in New India for specialist treatment. Alicia offered to go with him but her father had insisted her work was too important to give up. She lost contact with him shortly after he left.

Attempting to gain any information through the local Gene Therapy office proved fruitless. But it was during one of her frequent trips to the clinic to consult with another in an endless stream of bureaucrats or doctors that she began to hear talk of others who had lost contact with relatives sent for treatment. At first she ignored it but the more times she visited the greater in number the stories grew, each sharing common elements and themes. After deciding to seek answers herself she travelled to the facility in New India only to be told that they had no record of her father ever being admitted for treatment.

Her suspicions raised even further Alicia decided to seek out a group she had heard rumour of who were investigating the disappearances. It seemed that just knowing of their existence was enough to warrant a visit from the authorities and she soon found herself in ADVENT custody. It was only the timely intervention of operatives of a group previously unknown to all but a few that saved her from disappearing herself. This was how she found her slef a part of the revived XCOM project under the leadership of the same Commander who had resisted the initial invasion.

After some initial training, she was inducted in XCOMs strike team as a Specialist. While her skills were more technically based than suited for infiltration it was decided she would be the best operative to undertake this assignment.

Adams, the teams' demolition specialist and a veteran of the first XCOM project, freely admitted that he was far more suited to the role of destroying targets rather than attempting to subvert them.

Sterling, their recon and assault specialist, had been the initial choice only for some initial investigation to discover that he was still on an active wanted list in the settlements. As far as could be ascertained he was wanted by the ADVENT for the damage done during his escape from the Frankfurt settlement involving some X4 charges and a modified steamroller. Security camera footage obtained after the event showed him riding the vehicle through the city centre while yelling to his accomplice (Rough translation) 'Drive closer, I want to hit them with my sword!'.

And Croshaw, the teams' sharpshooter, agreed to do it on the condition that she be allowed to wear her Serpent Suit crafted from the remains of the Viper King. She always had been a strange one. Although, perhaps not as strange as the person on the R&D team with the dark sense of humour to come up with the design in the first place. Lieutenant Edwards said it was the alien equivalent of turning Her Majesty the Queen into a fetching battle-ready onesie.

PRESENT IDENTIFICATION

Alicia suddenly found herself bathed in a beam of blood red light, a mechanical voice calling out to her from overhead. She topped in her tracks.

Time to see if Tygan understands alien technology as much as they claim.

Alicia reached into her pocket and held up her falsified administration identity card for inspection. If it turned out Tygan and his team were less adept than they thought this operation would be over before it could even begin. The red light tightened around her as the scanner performed its analysis. If it found her wanting, it would only be a matter of seconds before the ADVENT-

IDENTITY CONFIRMED. TURNER, CHARLOTTE.

The red beam dissipated as quickly as it had emerged, leaving her free to continue her way. Alicia wasted little time before resuming her walk, eager to remove herself from the scanners range before it could request a second investigation of her ID. But even as she walked away that name continued to stick to the forefront of her mind.

Charlotte Turner, her mother's maiden name. Clearly someone on the development team had a dark sense of humour.

Turning the corner onto the next street she finally caught sight of her objective, a nondescript office building overlooking the main city square which housed the European Headquarters of the ADVENT Transport Operations division. From here a combination of human office workers and artificial intelligences co-ordinated ADVENTs road, rail and flight operations for the entire continent. This marriage of human and computer labour begged the question of why such a thing proved necessary in the first place. Even before the invasion humanity was on the verge of completely automating their logistics and transport infrastructure in developed countries within the next few decades. With the introduction of the alien's technology, and a twenty year advance no less, this kind of work should prove mere child's play for a suitably advanced AI.

Perhaps their alien overseers considered such trivial work below even the worth of an AI. The much more sinister explanation was that the conquers realised that leaving their subjects without purpose would only leave them time to contemplate rebellion and dissent. Better to keep the wheel turning just enough to keep the population docile.

Allowing humanity to take their place in their operations may prove their undoing however, because Alicia was going to use what she learned here to bring ADVENT to their knees.