XCOM: Droit du Serpent
Author’s Note: If you’re unfamiliar, XCOM is a strategy game that places you in control of XCOM, fighting against alien invaders. Lily Shen is from XCOM 2, at which point the aliens have already taken over, but a small band of resistance fighters, including Lily, continue to fight against them.
* * * * *
The Avenger slept. Beneath the moonlit night, it sat nestled within a canyon, deep enough to avoid Advent scanners, wide enough to allow for an emergency take-off in case it didn’t. Within its alien geometries and cavernous rooms, its massive power plant throbbed and hummed.
A few unlucky rookies on watch duty kept each other awake on the bridge with coffee and stories of missions both successful and failed. Everyone else was in bed, either sleeping or fucking. Everyone except for Lily Shen, Chief Engineer, that is, who was working alone in the Proving Ground, in sore need of both.
“Think this’ll do it, ROV-R,” she commented to the small robot hovering beside her, who whirred affirmatively. “Alright, test it out. Just a quick blast.”
ROV-R turned towards the articulated mannequin wearing a prototype E.X.O. Suit. The mannequin lifted its arm at a painted Viper target and pulled the trigger for the wrist-mounted flamethrower.
After Lily had put out the fire from the explosion, she sighed deeply. “We’ve got a problem, ROV-R… Any ideas?”
The Gremlin beeped and chirped. “You’re right! I forgot about those. I don’t think Dad ever got the chance to build one for real before… But I remember he had notes on powered armor that utilized flamethrower weaponry. With his notes, I bet I can get this thing working in time for that supply raid.
“Dad’s notes…where did I leave them?”
ROV-R whistled. “Great…” The Shadow Chamber… Central would give her an earful if he caught her in there without an armed escort. The last soldier who had dared had been reassigned to a New Arctic reconnaissance base indefinitely. It could probably wait until morning…
…But that would be half a day wasted. And that convoy could leave for Berlin any moment. Even a delay of a few hours could be the difference between the strike team having a new weapon or not.
“ROV-R, disable the security cameras outside and inside the Shadow Chamber,” she instructed, grabbing a pistol from its rack and her bag of tools. “Anyone asks, we’re there to fix the cameras. And if we get caught in the Shadow Chamber…well, I’ll come up with something.”
* * * * *
Lily opened the door to the Shadow Chamber. “Stay here, ROV-R. Keep guard. I’ll be right back,” she instructed the Gremlin. She walked inside. Unsleeping monitors bathed the room in an eldritch, amethyst glow. It was cold, far chillier than the rest of the Avenger. Even at the best of times, the room was unsettling. Alone, at night? It was downright creepy. Not even the mag pistol on her hip gave her much comfort.
Of course, Lily mused, had she actually been alone, it would have been far preferable. But the room contained one other occupant. Sealed within a reinforced-glass cylinder in the center of the room was Subject Gamma. His long, pallid body curled up within the container, his mazarine stripes and ebony spikes the only color on that ivory form.
Bradford has christened him the Viper King, but Lily personally disapproved of the name. She saw nothing kingly in that king’s behavior. It was a monster, plain and simple. It had killed Sergeant Liu when XCOM had first discovered his nest, and would have murdered Bradford, too, were it not for a lucky shot with an antiquated arc thrower that had stunned the monster long enough for it to be retrieved alive. As it was, it had broken two of Bradford’s ribs. Keeping something so dangerous on board the ship just to satisfy the doctor’s curiosity struck Lily as idiocy bordering on the suicidal, but the commander had assented to Tygan’s bold undertaking, and that was that.
At the very least, Lily had ensured that the Shadow Chamber was well-equipped to hold the serpent. Sometimes she thought that she should find some Schadenfreude in the doctor’s experiments on Gamma, but despite its monstrosity, she could derive no joy from its pain and imprisonment. It should be euthanized and dissected. But if the doctor could save a single human’s life or shorten the war by a single day through his studies, then it was for the greater good, she reasoned. Didn’t mean she liked it. Continue reading