Chapter 3: Check-in, Check-out

The Skyranger broke through the thin film of cloud that blanketed the city plaza. It had been six hours since last contact. Reaching the target location the strike team descended from the Skyranger, fast roping down onto the rooftop of a building overlooking the plaza. The five-member strike team assembled.

Benjamin Sterling was the team's assault and reconnaissance specialist. As the most senior operative he also served as the de facto team leader. He started out in the local resistance cell in Frankfurt. But when a weapons exchange with another resistance group had gone wrong he suddenly found himself high up on an ADVENT kill list. As fate would have it the deal was being held in a construction site where there just happened to be some heavy machinery just lying around. Sterling swiftly found himself making a decisive exit from the city, using a steamroller.

Samuel Adams, demolitions and heavy weapons, was a veteran of the original XCOM project. Born to Italian parents and raised in Australia he learnt his combat skills in the Australian Army and joked that the Chryssalids were little more than pests compared to some of the spiders that made their homes in the outback.

Lindsey 'Snakebite' Croshaw, Sniper, was something of the oddball of the group in more ways than one. Not much was widely known about her life before joining XCOM but she had demonstrated her abilities with a rifle on multiple occasions. After its development was complete, she insisted on being the one to field test the Serpent Armour, going so far as to paint black alien fangs across her eyes as a form of war paint. Croshaw later claimed it was something about knowing your enemy to fight your enemy. Those on missions with her even spoke of hearing a low hiss coming through her COM as she lined up to take her shots.

Aden O'Malley was an unconventional addition to the team. His service with XCOM followed having spent the better part of the initial invasion as a member of EXALT, the human supremacist group looking to harness the alien's powers for their own means. After the occupation was complete the organisation was quickly hunted down. The destruction of EXALT left its few scattered members to either surrender their allegiance or seek out an old enemy in the form of an uneasy alliance.

While O'Malley had never hid his former allegiance, he claimed to have never been an EXALT field operative himself. Instead he claimed his role had been working as a General Practitioner in Ireland treating, medically training and supplying EXALTs operatives. While his medical skills were never in question his account that his aptitude with firearms was the result of his regular pastime hunting game with a shotgun left many still sceptical.

SPARK, codenamed Knightmare, was a prototype mech secured from a derelict manufacturing facility and now piloted by the AI Julian. Despite Chief Engineer Shens assurances that his revised programming ensured his loyalty to XCOM many operatives still kept a spare EMP grenade to hand at all times.

The team was almost invisible in their midnight camouflage as they took up positions at the edge of the rooftop. The disguise did little against Vipers or ADVENT troops with infrared viewers, but it remained a small comfort nonetheless.

"What are we looking at?" Sterling asked.

Snakebite hefted her Gauss Rifle, the latest toy to emerge from the Avengers Research and Development department, and peered through the sight down onto the square below. "ADVENT patrols across the square, watch towers guarding the main routes in and out" Snakebite adjusted the rifle in her arms. "Plus whatever reinforcements they have on standby"

"Just another day at the office" Adams quipped.

"Snakebite, stay up here and provide support fire" Sterling ordered.

"Roger" Snakebite set the barrel of her sniper rifle against the edge of the building for support as she continued to scan the area below them.

"Alright everyone, down we go" Sterling instructed.

The team secured their rappel lines to the side of the building and began their descent. Speed took precedence in this instance and the troops descended on their lines at best speed, eager to limit the amount of time they were left out in the open. Dropping down into the square the team moved to conceal themselves amongst the constellation of seats, supports and decorations laid out across the otherwise open square.

Sterling was the first to advance. Allowing the ADVENT trooper to walk past him on its patrol Sterling climbed over the bench and crept up behind the ADVENT trooper. Unsheathing his combat knife Sterling lunged forward and drove the tip of the blade into the opening between the soldier's armour plates. Although they may not be human it seemed that their physiology was close enough for such an attack to prove effective. The trooper convulsed with unnatural muscles spasms before falling limp in Sterling's grasp, he lowered the body before jerking the knife free in a shower of orange blood.

Adams and O'Malley followed suit to his left and his right respectively. Although their true talents may lie elsewhere they continued to hold their own when it came to matters of stealth. Another trooper and their officer fell with only a low, alien gurgle interrupting the nights looming quiet.

As they reconvened the team took up positions at the door to the operations building, the SPARK charging across the open square in their wake to meet them. They found the door to the operations building, usually a large glass entrance, secured behind a blast resistant shutter.

O'Malley was the person deemed suitable for the job. "Beginning infiltration"

As O'Malley's accompanying GREMLIN began its work dismantling ADVENTs cyber security Sterling took the moment of calm to check in with their overwatch. "Snakebite, you see anything?"

"Nothing" Snakebite replied over the team COM. "Wait, I think- shit!" The COM cut out abruptly.

"Snakebite?" Sterling asked into silence.

"Get off me you alien f-" returned through the COM underlayed by a barrage of static.

"Snake, Snake!" Sterling called out.

Adams did not wait for the response. Breaking away from the team he used an adjacent drainpipe to reach the top of the nearby building. Running across the rooftop, leaping over an obstructive A/C unit despite his armament, he managed to find a vantage point.

From across the street he could only watch as Snakebite fought a hand to hand brawl with the larger ADVENT trooper, flailing the butt of her long rifle at her opponent as her best means of defence. The trooper swiftly tired of its prey's impudence and grabbed the long barrel of the rifle as she moved in for her next swing. Tearing the rifle from her hands the trooper cast it over the side of the building. With no other options Snakebite was forced to descend into full on melee, jabbing and punching at anything which came within reach of her arms.

Adams readied his cannon to intervene but found his sight being perpetually blocked by the ever-moving targets. His target never offered him a large enough window for the spray of the gun to not prove a lethal hazard to both parties.

The slug match continued as a contest of reach against flexibility, strikes overtaken by counters. ADVENT troopers were heavily modified with strength and endurance no human could hope to overtake alone. Unable to gain ground on her opponent Snakebite made for a desperate gambit, sacrificing her next punch to reach for her pistol at her belt. Snakebite brought her pistol up in an arc as she prepared to fire.

The ADVENT trooper was faster, grasping her exposed forearm he twisted sharply with inhuman strength. The pain was immediate and devastating, tearing its way up her arm until it erupted in her shoulder. Snakebite summoned her remaining strength to fire the pistol; the shot went wide. The trooper twisted again, her hand went limp. Snakebites pistol struck the rooftop in time with her knees, crouched with all her energy focussed on the single task of not descending into shock.

More ADVENT soldiers emerged from the roof access, a pair of troopers led by an officer. The officer barked a command as they prepared to fire. Through tear stung eyes Snakebite looked across to see Adams on the other rooftop. "Adams" Snakebite panted through the squad COM. "Polish Waltz"

"Roger that" Adams replied affirmatively. Securing his cannon at his back he reached around to retrieve his grenade launcher, took aim and fired. The grenades arc brought it down at the feet of the line of ADVENT, throwing one trooper into the air with the force of the blast as the others were peppered with splinters of shrapnel.

Snakebite reached down to grab her pistol and brought it up in an arc. This time she didn't wait to aim, firing the moment she could wrap her finger around the trigger. The first shot went wide, the second struck the trooper in the centre of the chest. Kicking off with her legs Snakebite charged forward, tackling the trooper in the chest with the full force of her remaining good shoulder.

The trooper stumbled back against the guard railing. The metal strained at their combined weight before ultimately cracking and giving way, the two falling over the precipice into the abyss. Snakebite forced herself to turn in mid-air, thrusting her arm out before firing her grapple towards the side of the building, hoping beyond hope it would find purchase.

The rope snapped taut in an instant, arresting her descent and swinging her around into the side of the building. Snakebite struck the concrete face with her injured right shoulder, a fresh stab of pain tearing through her body. As her momentum deteriorated all she could do was hang forlornly from her grapple, an easy target for any one of the ADVENT below that dared to look up. Glancing down at the street she could make out what remained of the ADVENT trooper. It was safe to say he had come off worse in the engagement.

From his rooftop view Adams was the first to sight the swooping approach of the ADVENT dropship. "We've got more ADVENT incoming"

Adams first instinct was to help Snakebite. But looking across the way he would only watch as she began to lower herself down the side of the building as she continued to dangle one armed from her grapple. She was a sitting duck up there, but she had to take her time getting down. Adams chose instead to abandon his position and return to assist the rest of the team.

By the time he reached the ground floor the ADVENT dropship had already unloaded a fresh contingent of troopers accompanied by a Stun Lancer led by an Officer. The ADVENT group began making their advance towards the assembled XCOM group in front of the operations building.

Seemingly ignored by the ADVENT Snakebite finally reached the bottom of her descent, her shaking legs unable to support her as she was forced to prop herself up against the wall for support. Despite being out in the open and exposed she found it an appropriate time to take stock of what had just happened. Glancing across she could see the shattered remains of her rifle alongside the equally piecemeal trooper. This was a useful bit of field intelligence for Shen's R laser rifles don't bounce.

"We're in" O'Malley announced his success in breaching ADVENTs security, the doors to the operations building yawning opening at his request. Despite the way to continue their mission laying open that still left Snakebite on the far side of the plaza.

While the rest of the team engaged the ADVENT troopers, an exchange of conventional firearms and alien laser weapons, O'Malley and SPARK charged from cover towards their wounded comrade. With the rest of the team drawing fire the rescue team made it across unscathed.

O'Malley crouched down next to his patient, laying his rifle on the ground beside him. "Where's the pain?"

"My shoulder" Snakebite hissed through pursed lips.

O'Malley's reply was cut out by the report of gunfire from barrel of the SPARK's autocannon. "Might I suggest we make every effort to relocate to a more secure position, so we don't all die for the sake of your bruised shoulder"

Snakebite resisted the urge to reach up and punch the annoying robot with her remaining good arm. The moment of satisfaction would almost certainly not outweigh the shattered hand she would need to add to her list of grievances.

"The robots right" O'Malley admitted. "You can't stay here"

O'Malley reached down and helped her up to her feet, supporting her under the shoulder of her good arm. Supporting her injured arm as best she could Snakebite hobbled her way across the plaza, shielded from the advancing ADVENT only by the blanket of covering fire being laid down by Knightmare.

Joining Adams and Sterling at the door to the operations building the team made their way inside under their covering fire. The blast door fell back into place as soon as the team were inside, sealing them off from the outside world and chaos which no doubt persisted.

Snakebite was lowered against the wall to support herself as O'Malley knelt next to her to resume his treatment. O'Malley peeled back the thin skin of her armours under suit, finding her shoulder set at an unnatural angle.

"I'm going to have to set it back into place" O'Malley grasped her arm and her shoulder firmly in his hands. "You see, the most common mistake people make about treating an injury like this-"

A wet thwack resounded through the room, accompanied by a sharp hiss as the bone shifted back into place.

"Sorry" O'Malley said by way of recompense. Reaching for the Medkit at his belt he began applying the cooling spray to the wound. "You'll still require further treatment at base, but you should be fine for now"

"Can you still fight?" Sterling asked.

"My rifles bust, but I kept hold of my pistol" Snakebite presented her pistol still held in her good hand.

"Self-defence only" Sterling ordered. "I'm not carrying you out of here dead"

Snakebite nodded, raising herself to her feet with her good arm as she continued to feel the dull pain in her arm even through the drugs.

"Let's go" Sterling instructed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The strike team moved through the vacant office space, finding it eerily silent when devoid of the workforce which usually filled its halls. Security in the office areas was light, secured by doors which could be easily broken down or hacked as the need arose. It seems the administration didn't want to unsettle their workforce with too much open security.

They found the entrance to the back rooms at the far end of the facility, the door heavily secured against intrusion by the regular staff. The door controls were no match for the XCOM GREMLIN.

The door opened only to be immediately met by a barrage of gunfire, forcing them into cover. Sterling peered inside into what looked like a holding area. He could see the outline of an ADVENT Shield Bearer, Officer and a Trooper. Adams prepared a grenade, priming the device before throwing it into the room.

Two… three…

The grenade detonated in a bright flash. Sterling charged through the door, his broadsword in his hand. His first swing cut down the wounded officer in front of him. O'Malley followed quickly behind, firing to catch the ADVENT Shieldbearer in the chest as he prepared to charge his shield.

Sterling saw the flash of red emerging at his side. He brought the broadside of his sword to deflect the Stun Lancers attack, flashes of red arcing off the surface as he resisted the attack. The deadlock broke, the Stun Lancer took another swing and forced Sterling back. Another swing, another step back. Sterling felt his back strike the wall behind him. The Stun Lancer readied another swing.

A burst of heavy gun fire ripped through the chest of the Stun Lancer, the body falling to the floor in a bloody heap. Sterling looked aside to see Knightmare reloading its smoking heavy cannon.

"You're welcome" Knightmare said with a smug undertone.

The décor shift between the central office and the holding area was unsettling. Intelligence said that the sites secondary function is as a holding facility before prisoners were transferred elsewhere out of the city. The fact that the administration considered the necessity to have a dedicated facility demonstrated quite how often they intended to use it.

O'Malley stepped forwards to access the main computer. According to the ADVENT records only one of the half dozen cells was currently occupied. Alicia. O'Malley's hands were a flurry of movement across the keyboard.

"Its open!" O'Malley called out to the team.

O'Malley and Adams rushed to find her while Snakebite and Sterling searched for the intel. They found Alicia laid out in one of the holding cells. O'Malley came forwards to check for signs of life, unconscious but alive.

"Menace 1-5 to Firebrand" Sterling spoke. "Ready for extraction"

"Roger, Firebrand inbound for extraction" Firebrand replied.

"Menace 1-5, we are detecting Interceptors inbound on your current position" Bradford interjected. "You need to get out of there now"

"Alright people" Sterling called out. "Taxis here and the meters running so let's make like a punnet of eggs and scramble"

An explosion erupted in the distance, the sound of screeched metal resonating through the office. ADVENT had broken through the blast door.

"We need a new exit" Sterling instructed. "Where's the back door?"

"Oh, sod the doors!" Adams interrupted.

Withdrawing his grenade launcher from his back Adams and readied his last grenade. He fired it towards the far end of the cell corridor. The grenade exploded on impact, erupting in a blast of flame and sending glass and masonry spitting in every direction.

As the shockwave dissipated they could finally hear the roar of the Skyrangers engine, the searchlight piercing through the thick veil of smoke. The fast rope dropped down into the building. The strike team rushed forward to ascend one by one. Knightmare was the last to exfiltrate as the first of the ADVENT troopers burst into the remains of the holding area.

"All operatives secure" Firebrand confirmed, rising back into the air the pilot engaged the engines. "Firebrand returning to base"