Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Central Officer John Bradford dropped his head into his hands as the door closed behind him. These interviews were exhausting, emotionally, and the hours weren't helping. He didn't think he'd managed to sleep more than a few hours since they'd managed to wipe out the attackers, and reclaim the HQ.

The worst part, the part the Commander had confided was also keeping him up nights, was the implications of the whole thing. The X-Rays knew where XCOM HQ was; maybe they'd always known. With the seemingly inexhaustible forces they were able to put on the ground, they'd launched a token offensive that had still managed to take them off guard and result in multiple casualties. The X-Rays could probably wipe out XCOM any time, but hadn't. That was the thought that woke him multiple times a night drenched in cold sweat. Why? What was their purpose in holding back?

There came a knock at the door, and Bradford took several moments to compose himself before he spoke.

"Enter," he said, raising his voice to be heard through the door. The analyst who came through the door was one of the ones he'd been dreading; He knew that today, the last day of interviews, had been stacked with painful interviewees. The man had a bruise on his face, and refused to meet Bradford's eyes. The last time Bradford had seen him, he'd noted the manic, violet glow, and had put the man down hard.

"Intelligence Officer Pidgeon, reporting as directed, Sir," the man said, standing stiffly before the table, until Bradford gestured at the seat.

"Sit down, David," he said. "This won't take too long."

"Sir," replied the analyst, sitting down, still as stiff as ever, and looking everywhere but Bradford's face.

"I want you to tell me everything you remember about the attack," he said, lifting a recording device to indicate that the interview was being recorded. "Start at the beginning, go slow."

"Sir," the analyst said again, stalling a moment while his gaze turned inward, remembering. His face scrunched in pain, but then he took a deep, slow breath, and began speaking. "I remember my screen flickering, several times. I leaned over to... Anderson, I think? To look at their terminal, see if they were having problems too. Then the hologlobe got all flickery, and..." The man trailed off, his eyes flickering up to the bruising on Bradford's temple for a second.

"Go on," Bradford replied, knowing full well what Pidgeon was remembering.

"Then... things got weird." The Australian swallowed heavily. "I heard a voice telling me to grab the fire extinguisher. It seemed important, so I did. I knew what I had to do. You-" another swallow, followed by a nearly inaudible gasp, "you needed to be stopped. So, I hit you, and you went down, but you weren't out. I came in again, but you were quick enough to stop me." The man let out a sudden, barely human sound, and squeezed his eyes shut, until tears leaked from the corners.

"It's alright, David. It happened, and it's over, but I need you to continue." Bradford didn't feel the calm he heard in his own voice. He felt the adrenaline spiking, and his jaw ached from the effort of not clenching it.

"Sir, I'm sorry," Pidgeon replied, wiping at his face, and visibly taking control of himself again. "You pushed me away, and got the gun. I was trying to get up, to stop you, but you put the gun to my head. You... said something? I don't know what you said. It was like gibberish. It- it scared me."

"You couldn't understand what I said?" Bradford nodded as he asked, as it confirmed the stories of others who'd been controlled.

"No sir," it was just garbled noise," he grinned suddenly, mirthlessly. "I recall thinking that the accent was American, though." The smile faded, replaced by the same thousand-yard stare he'd been wearing the whole time. "Then you hit me with the gun, and that's all I remember until I woke up later, in the brig."

"That's all?" Bradford waited, and when the analyst nodded, he nodded in return. "Thank you, Intelligence Officer. That's all I need from you, for now." When the man got up and moved toward the door, Bradford spoke up suddenly, surprising himself. "It wasn't your fault," he said. "I don't blame you. It was them, not you, who attacked me."

"Yes, Sir," replied the other man listlessly. His tone gave no doubts that he didn't believe the reassurances. "Thank you, Sir." Then the door closed, leaving Bradford with his thoughts again.

He suddenly remembered that IO Pidgeon had been a friend of SSG Parsons; They'd been countrymen, and had become friends shortly after the project started. He thought it likely that IO Pidgeon was carrying the guilt of that, as well. He made a note on the tablet before him to pass that on to medical.

Another knock on the door signaled another interviewee. He indicated that they should enter, and SFC Leigh Fahey walked in. He looked at her for a moment, studying her features. She looked tired, but did not allow any sign of what she was feeling show on her face. When he indicated she should sit, she slumped into the chair.

"Sergeant First Class Fahey," he said, "I'd first like to offer my thanks, and those of the Commander, for the excellent service you rendered during the attack." She nodded, her body language showing discomfort at the praise, the first emotional response she'd shown. When she didn't speak, he continued. "I'd like you to tell me what you remember from the attack."

She delivered a crisp, accurate narrative, from her arrival in Delta section with some of the base defense personnel until they'd finally declared the All-Clear. Only briefly when she described de Matos' death did her voice break for even a moment.

"Staff Sergeant de Matos was a friend of yours, wasn't she?" Bradford asked quietly.

"Yes, Sir." The brief flash of emotion from earlier was well hidden this time. This time, he was the one to sit quietly, and she was the one to finally break silence. "She was a friend, and a damned good medic, Sir. Didn't know the others that well, though, the Lieutenant, and Parsons. The security personnel who came in with me, Liles and Walters seemed like good troops. Obeyed orders." Her litany finally stopped, and she looked around the room, her posture speaking frustration. "Do you need anything else, Sir?"

"Unless you've remembered anything else to add to your report, that will be all, Sergeant." Immediately, Fahey got up and moved to the door. When she opened the door she suddenly stopped and he heard a sharply indrawn breath. Bradford jerked his head over his shoulder, his instincts keyed, but he only saw the next interviewee waiting, and it was she that had made Fahey stop in her tracks. Sergeant First Class Lieselotte Faber barely looked like the confident young woman Bradford had frequently seen around HQ. She stepped aside wordlessly and let SFC Fahey exit, then glanced in at him. Bradford stifled a sigh and nodded to her unspoken question, gesturing her to sit immediately.

"Sergeant Faber," he began as soon as she sat down listlessly. He was ready to launch into the now rote interview, but instead, he clicked the recording device off, and asked a different question. "How are you doing?"

"Sir?" she blinked and her eyes focused on his. He could see that they were red, and he had no doubt she'd been crying recently. "I am fit for combat, Sir." There was an edge to her answer, challenging him to disagree with her.

"That's not what I'm asking," he replied gently. "How are you doing? I know that Sergeant de Matos was important to you."


"Sorry, that Monica was important to you," he corrected.

"I will survive," she replied, her tone studiously devoid of emotion. "I will keep fighting, keep killing those bastards." The German woman looked up, meeting his eyes for the first time. "For her." her voice broke on those last words, and she dropped her eyes again, but not before he could see the sheen of fresh tears.

Bradford made a decision then, one he hoped he would not regret. He scribbled a note on the tablet "SFC Faber - Recommend immediate return to duty status." He looked up at her, and nodded, once. "I'll see to it you get your chance to do that."

"Thank you, Sir," she replied, real gratitude warring with the grief and anger in her voice. Bradford nodded again, and clicked the recording device back on. "Sergeant First Class Faber, I'd like you to tell me everything you remember about the attack. Start at the beginning, go slowly, try to remember it all."

It was a rough interview, but they got through it, even though she was shaking by the end. When the door opened, he saw SFC Fahey and SFC Colman standing outside, and they immediately took the German sniper into their arms as the door closed.

Was it all worth it? Bradford wondered. With the X-Rays launching such an attack, there was no way of knowing if they could even be beaten. Was the loss of loved ones, friends, teammates worth it? He sighed and rubbed his temples as the ever-present headache of the last several days began to throb in earnest; not even half-way through the interviews for the day. The only way to know the value of what they did would be to finish it, one way or the other. It would be the worst sort of insult to the many men and women who'd given their lives before now to do anything less.

The knock on the door signaled another interview, and Bradford squared his shoulders. There was work to be done, and there was no one else to do it.