Friday, November 13, 2015

A Familiar Path (24 AUG 2016)

SFC Leigh Fahey paced quietly down the corridor. She was looking for SGT Glynn, whom she'd been asked to find by CPT Lindemann. When she'd checked his bunk area and found him gone, SGT Parsons had said he'd seen Glynn and Zhu headed toward Mission Command. Her steps took her into the armory, and she felt her pace quicken as the familiar path played on her memory, reminding her of the many times she'd pounded in here, scrambling to get her gear on for a mission. She paused a moment, glancing around at the orderly rows of rifles, the crates filled with neatly packaged grenades and other devices.

She drifted to the ready rack, where the precious few laser weapons and sets of phalanx armor were laid out; she traced a finger lovingly along the bulky shape of the scatter laser that she'd carried several times already, then spent a few moments looking at the various sets of phalanx, seeing the slight irregularities where the engineers had repaired plasma burns; Each set of armor told a different story, but in amalgam, it was a story of pain, injury and triumph. With a sigh laden with meaning that is only comprehensible to those who have felt the exhilaration and terror of being in combat, she turned away from the racks of equipment, and left the armory behind.

Mission Control was a very different place. Where the armory was all orderly gleaming gunmetal and stillness, the nerve center of XCOM was chaos barely held in check, with a low hum of constant talk as the many technicians communicated with outlying stations, reconnaissance elements, and the various Council Nations. Dominating the room physically was the hologlobe, showing near-real-time intel from all over the globe, integrating the multiple flows of information from the workstations all around into a single cohesive picture which the Commander and Bradford used to coordinate XCOM's efforts.

As if thinking of him summoned him, she saw Bradford move out of the shadows on the catwalk overlooking Mission Control. He appeared to be coming from the Situation Room; The Commander probably had a tele-meeting with the shadowy Council head. Bradford leaned on the railing, looking down at the hologlobe and the busy technicians below. Leigh, in turn, looked up at him. She'd only spoken to him a few times, during debriefs, but his demeanor never wavered. Stiff, formal, professional. It sometimes seemed that XCOM ran on his willpower alone. Bradford's eyes shifted, and she realized he was looking directly back at her, and she jumped slightly. She raised her right hand toward her brow in a casual half salute, and Bradford acknowledged it with a nod before turning his eyes back to the hologlobe.

Leigh stepped off again, letting her feet carry her along the well-known route to the Hangar, as she still hadn't seen Glynn. She had a hunch that he might be in there; Many of the troopers liked to hang out in the Hangar when they were doing maintenance on the bay doors, as it was the only time other than missions that any of them saw sky. Sure enough, she could smell the distinct aroma of fresh air, so different from the machine smells of oil and smoke, and the ever-present scent of moist granite. As she entered the Hangar, Leigh turned her gaze upward involuntarily, to where she could see a few stars winking through the lowering twilight, barely silhouetting the tiny shapes of mechanics working on the door mechanism.

"Sergeant Fahey," she heard, and dropped her eyes to find SSG Zhu raising a hand in greeting, with Glynn sitting next to him, with the single S.C.O.P.E. held to his eye as he gazed upward. She walked the short distance to the stack of crates they were seated on, and waited a moment until Glynn turned his attention to her.

"SGT Glynn," she began, "CPT Lindemann would like you to drop by his room this evening, when you've some time. He wanted to get your take on something from the bridge."

"No problem," Glynn said. "I'll swing by there in a few." He passed the S.C.O.P.E. over to Zhu who also put it to his eye and turned it upward. "What do you think?" he asked after a few moments.

"What are you doing?" Leigh asked, looking upward to try to discern what they were looking at.

"We're checking out some new tweaks to the S.C.O.P.E." Glynn explained. "Engineering's working on some new features, and they asked us to give our input."

Zhu dropped the device to his lap, and nodded. "I agree," he said shortly. "the calibration is a little off. Also, did you notice that the overlay tried to give him a third arm? It was actually a wrench on his belt."

Glynn burst out laughing. "I guess the computer is trying to extrapolate for new breeds of X-Ray?" he speculated. He glanced at SFC Fahey, then reached out and grabbed the S.C.O.P.E. and offered it to her. "Take a look."

Leigh took the device, and held it to her eye, raising it up. The auto-focus hesitated for a moment, then suddenly the lip of the bay doors came into sharp focus, and she could see the workers moving around. As she watched, the light level raised gradually. "Place the center reticle over one of the workers," she heard Zhu prompt, so she did so. Within a couple seconds, the man was overlaid with an outline, and data appeared on the edge of her view, designating him as human and giving his distance; There was also appeared two dots, one over his head, another over his heart. She let out a slow, appreciative whistle.

"That's pretty impressive," she said. Wouldn't be much help for a shotgunner like me, but I can see how that'd help you make some deadly shots."

Yeah, they're working on integrating features to help line up on more critical zones on our targets. They've been making some big improvements in the Foundry." Glynn grinned wolfishly, and Leigh returned it with one of her own.

"I'll write up our observations, then send it to you for review," Zhu said as he accepted the S.C.O.P.E. back from Fahey. "I think our time here is done anyway." As he spoke, muted klaxons sounded, and the bay doors began to swing closed.

"I guess so," Glynn agreed, sliding off of the crate. "I think I'll go see what the Captain wants," he said. "You coming back to the barracks, Sergeant, or are you going to stay here?"

"I'll come," she replied with a last glance at the sky, just as the bay doors cut it off. "I'll walk with you. I wanted to talk to CPT Lindemann again anyway."